DETROIT (WXYZ) - The jury in the criminal trial against former city contractor Bobby Ferguson failed to reach a verdict in the first day of deliberations Friday, but will resume Monday at 8 AM.
The trial has lasted more than five-weeks and included approximately 80 witnesses and scores of exhibits. Ferguson and two former co-workers, Michael Woodhouse and Calvin Hall, are accused of orchestrating a bid-rigging scheme that gave Fereguson the inside-track to a $12 million subcontract awarded, allegedly, by a company he secretly controlled that was doing business with the City of Detroit. The US Attorney also accuses Ferguson of dumping contaminated soil on a public housing project in Detroit, laundering money, unlawfully possessing a firearm and more.
If and when a verdict is reached, WXYZ.com will be in the courtroom.
Earlier this week, 7 Action News Investigator Ross Jones was blogging live from federal court as closing-arguments in the weeks-long case were delivered to the jury on Thursday.
3:40--Court adjourns for the day: With one defense attorney left to deliver closing arguments, and a prosecutor with a chance to rebut what's said, Judge David Lawson adjourned today's hearing. We'll be back tomorrow at 8 AM. See you then!
3:03--Steingold says prosecution relies on blind trust: Arguing that the US Attorney's office is listening only to the "truth that it wanted," attorney David Steingold, representing Ferguson Enterprises, says that the government is hoping jurors will place "blind trust" in its witnesses and not question their motives or credibility.
Just as significant as who the prosecution called to testify, Steingold said, is who and what the government didn't subpoena, including alleged witnesses to key conversations between Burrell and Dodds, phone records to corroborate alleged conversations, and other internal documents related to the bids in question.
"Their indifference to corroboration creates reasonable doubt," he said.
2:20--Defense team pulls out the stops: In a nod to the late Johnny Cochran, attorney Jeffrey Edison rattled off what just may be the line of the day. Speaking about a key card that prosecutor's had initially suggested gave Ferguson access to the Kilpatrick's mayoral office, but later was found to be to a different building, Edison told jurors: "If the key don't fit...you must acquit!"
And with that, the media room erupted in laughter.
1:45--Assault on Burrell, Dodds continues: "How do you evaluate liars," Edison asked in a booming voice, referring to the much-maligned government witnesses Dodds and Burrell. The defense team is assaulting the duo's credibility as best they can. Burrell acknowledged misleading the grand jury about his role in the alleged bid-rigging scheme when he initially testified, but in court he testified he was telling the truth now. The two have since said that Ferguson forced them to up their bid prices.
1:18--Differing styles: The defense lawyers who have argued so far today are each very confident and talented speakers, but could not be more different stylistically. Gerald Evelyn addressed the jury in a very even-keeled, deliberate manner. Todd Flood injected levity in his arguments as his voice often rose and fell. And Jeffrey Edison's argument to the jury sounds as much like a sermon as it does anything else, with his arms swaying side to side and his voice bellowing throughout the courtroom.
1:10--Arguments re-start: Jeffrey Edison, who represents co-defendant and Ferguson's former partner Calvin Hall, is now addressing the jury. He told them that the verdict they reach will be the "most important decision of their lives."
12:15--Jury breaks for lunch: We missed about 30-minutes of testimony to prepare for ou liveshot on 7 Action News at Noon, so my apologies for missing out on some of the arguments. The jury just broke for lunch and should return around 1 PM. We'll start blogging as soon as arguments start back up.
11:34--Evenlyn sits, Flood begins arguments: Attorney Todd Flood, who also represents a defendant in this trial, is now addressing the jury. He's saying that if Ferguson really was trying to hide his money from the feds, like the prosecution has alleged, he did a pretty bad job of it. In fact, Flood said, Ferguson reported the earnings to the IRS in 2005.
"That theory," Flood said, "kind of goes out of the window."
11:20--Another prosecution witness has credibility questioned: Evelyn insisted that the testimony of Shakib Deria, who said Ferguson directed him to claim a gun found in Ferguson's safe was actually his, was made out of fear of being deported. He said that Deria, like Dodds and Burrell, was only testifying for the government to get a lighter sentence.
11:10--Dirt was already dirty: Evelyn told the jury that dirty soil was found at Garden Views because the land had been contaminated for years, and Ferguson had simply unearthed some of that contaminated
11:02-- Nothing dirty here: Evelyn contends that the prosecution is trying to confuse the jury with smoke and mirrors surrounding Ferguson's stashes of hidden cash.
"It's not illegal to have $1 or $1 million," he said.
"You can't launder something that's not dirty."
10:55--Defense continues assault on witness credibility: Gerald Evelyn launched a 10-minute withering assault on the credibility of Dodds and Burrell, bringing up that a federal agent noted that Dodds he called Ferguson a derogatory term used to disparage African-Americans during an interview with agents.
Dodds denied in court that he ever said that.
"You can't walk away from that," Evelyn said, insisting that it undermines his credibility.
10:50--Defense witnesses are liars, says Evelyn: Evelyn said two key prosecution witnesses, Brian Dodds and Rodney Burrell, sold their testimony to the government in exchange for lighter sentences. Dodds and Burrell testified that Ferguson recruited them to submit inflated-bids for work from Xcel so that Ferguson would be the lowest bid.
Evelyn said the only conspiracy in this case was between Dodds and Burrell, who lied to save themselves.
"They didn't want to be sitting here...with these defendants," he said.
10:37- -Defense begins closing arguments: Gerald Evelyn, Ferguson's attorney, has started presenting his closing arguments to the jury. He quickly railed against the US Attorney for again mentioning Kwame Kilpatrick's name in today's hearing.
"The former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, has absolutely nothing to do with Garden View," he said, arguing that government is trying to link Ferguson to an unpopular convicted felon.
He said Kilpatrick's request that the city have its own project manager for the Garden Views Project, in which it was partnering with HUD, was a standard request because these types of projects encourage local involvement.
10:15--Prosecution concludes: After 90-minutes, Buckley wound down his closing arguments and thanked the jury for its attention. After a brief recess, defense attorneys will have a chance to make their arguments.
10:02--Ferguson's request: Assistant US Attorney Michael Buckley reminded jurors that when FBI agents raided Ferguson's office downtown, his first request was that he retrieve a cigar and alcohol from his office. Agents complied with the unusual request.
9:57--Contaminated soil found: Soil samples revealed arsenic, chromium, lead and sewage dumped on the property of Garden Views Estates, Buckley told jurors. He said Ferguson dumped the contaminants on the grounds so he could later charge for removing them.
Earlier in the trial, defense lawyers had argued that the soil on the property had been contaminated years earlier. But Buckley said soil analysis revealed the contaminants were "6 to 12 inches" below the surface, suggesting they were freshly left there.
The soil cost $1.4 million to clean-up.
"It's a little bit like pouring a bucket of paint on your dining room table and saying, 'That'll be a hundred dollars to clean it up,'" Buckley said.
9:45--Government explains alleged laundering: Buckley told the jury that Calvin Hall, an employee of Xcel Construction who's also on trial, was directed by Bobby Ferguson to redeem two million dollars in cashier's checks in the name of Xcel Construction. It was intended to conceal that Ferguson controlled the funds, he said.
Buckley also showed jurors the checkbook ledger from Xcel which a previous witness had testified was written in Ferguson's handwriting.
"If you control the checkbook, you control the operation," Buckley said, inferring that Ferguson ran the show.
9:30--"That's a lot of dirt:" Xcel construction had a stipulation removed from its contract that said it had to properly dispose of contaminated soil so Ferguson could later charge for it, Buckley said.
"What Ferguson did was double dip," Buckley said, saying he dumped tons of contaminated soil he was paid to remove from another job, and left it at the Garden View Estates so he could later charge for having to remove the soil.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I gotta tell you," Buckley said, "that was one of the most outrageous things about this case."
Buckley said Ferguson dumped approximately 100 football fields of dirt--some of which included sewage--on the public housing project, and later charged more than $700,000 to remove the soil he put there.
"That's a lot of dirt," Buckley whispered into the microphone.
9:15--"What are the odds?" With his hands gripping the podium, Buckley told jurors that Ferguson recruited two contractors to bid for a job he was going after, and that Ferguson instructed both men to "bump up" their bids.
Earlier in the hearing, contractors Brian Dodds and Rodney Burrell testified that they submitted inflated bids at the direction of Ferguson and later received work from him once Ferguson's bid was deemed lowest.
Buckley said the bid-rigging scheme wasn't even
hard to spot, as both Burrell and Dodds submitted nearly identical bids, even misspelling the same word--"demolition"--in the same way.
"What are the odds of that," Buckley asked, a small smile on his face.
9:09--"A curtain of deceit" says US Attorney: Ferguson hid his involvement in a company he founded, Xcel Construction, that was ultimately selected by the City of Detroit to act as the construction manager for the building of the Garden View Estates project, a low-income public housing project.
Assistant US Attorney Michael Buckley said that Ferguson scrubbed his name from any company documents that would show his involvement, knowing that the federal government wouldn't allow Xcel to then hire Ferguson as its primary subcontractor.
"Bobby Ferguson was the man behind the curtain," Buckley said.
9:00--Kilpatrick stepped in: Arguing that this alleged criminal endeavor never would have happened were it not for the intervention of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Buckley wasted no time in associating Bobby Ferguson with his disgraced friend, the former mayor.
Buckley reminded jurors that earlier in the trial, a representative from HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, testified that Kilpatrick insisted that the construction project hire a second project manager, even though HUD wanted just one. That allowed a company linked to Ferugson, Xcel Construction Services, to get in on the job, Buckley said
Xcel eventually hired Ferguson as a subcontractor, and the government says Ferguson rid a series of bids to get the job.
"This is a manifesto of lies," he said.
8:54--Arguments Begin: Assistant US Attorney Michael Buckley has started his closing statement on behalf of the government. Wearing a dark suit and red tie, he is standing at a podium addressing the jurors.
"The evidence has told a story about fraud, about deceit and about money," said Buckley, swaying slightly as he spoke.
"These defendants were willing to spread tons--tons of contaminated soil--on (a low-income housing site), and that's outrageous."
He described Ferguson, and fellow defendants Michael Woodhouse and Calvin Hall, as greedy, arrogant and heartless.
"You alone" Buckley said, his arms out and palms open, "decide what the facts are."
8:10--Waiting for the Judge: All the players are here--three defendants, six attorneys, two prosecutors--except for Judge David Lawson. But he's expected to take the bench any minute, and today's closing statements will begin. Even US Attorney Barbara McQuade is here, standing in the front row, to observe today's arguments. McQuade is the top lawyer for the US Attorney's Eastern District of Michigan; her office filed the charges against Ferguson and the other defendants.
Ferguson was charged with eight felonies in 2010 ranging from orchestrating a $12 million bid-rigging scheme, dumping contaminated soil on a Detroit housing project, and possessing firearms despite a previous criminal conviction that forbids him from owning any.
Two other men who worked with Ferguson are also standing trial. The most serious charges could land Ferguson in prison for 20 years.
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