(WXYZ) - Yet another twist in the Kilpatrick Corruption Trial, with an unexpected hearing in federal court Monday so that Victor Mercado could plead guilty.
Sources are telling 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo that this all unfolded over the weekend… and the feds made Victor Mercado an offer he just couldn't refuse.
At 10:52 am Monday, a federal judge accepted the 61 year old's guilty plea.
For months, Mercado has stayed silent, huddling at the end of the long defense table inside the courtroom, keeping his distance from his co-defendants.
Now, the former Director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has played his hand, snatching up a plea deal that could translate into no prison time at all.
"This was the right decision at right time, and a good plea offer," said Mercado attorney Martin Crandall.
Speaking quietly, Mercado told Judge Nancy Edmunds Monday morning that he was guilty of one count of conspiracy. He admitted on the record that back in 2007, he told a representative from Walbridge that former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick would award the construction company a water department deal if they partnered with former city contractor Bobby Ferguson on a project.
Mercado was on trial with Kilpatrick, Ferguson, and the former mayor's father, Bernard Kilpatrick. He was facing up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the racketeering and conspiracy charges. With the deal, he will get no more than 18 months behind bars, with a maximum $100,000 fine.
"You have to look at the potential risks. In this case the racketeering conspiracy carries the possibility of a double digit in years sentence – 10 years 20 years – you have to weigh those risks against the offer like the one that was made here," said Mercado's other attorney, John Minock.
While the plea deal seemed sudden – coming several weeks into the Kilpatrick Corruption Trial – Minock says talks with the government have been happening on and off for some time.
"A lot of the evidence against Victor Mercado is circumstantial in nature. And, that means counting on the jury to call balls and strikes. And that's not easy. There's no predicting the results. So while we were confident in our case – there comes a time if the parties get close to an agreement when it's reasonable to resolve things," said Minock.
"Was it just too good of a deal to pass up," asked Catallo.
"You could say that," said Minock.
Assistant U. S. Attorney Mark Chutkow told the judge that Mercado should only get a maximum of 18 months behind bars with his plea deal because he never took any cash. Chutkow also said the evidence showed that Mercado was a reluctant participant in the conspiracy and that the former mayor often pressured the Mercado.
"Victor didn't get a dime. And, he was in a different position from their perspective than many of the other people already been convicted," said Minock.
Mercado's attorneys plan to ask the judge only for probation.
Kilpatrick lawyer Jim Thomas says this plea deal does not change the case for his client.
"This is a racketeering case – his lawyer said this is a death sentence. There's a tremendous amount of fear people have when they are over charged by the government. He now has plead guilty to a simple conspiracy, he's got an 18 month cap," said Thomas.
Mercado's plea deal does not include a cooperation agreement which means he likely will not be testifying.
"What Mercado does, or his basis, or his reasons for doing things, have nothing to do with the evidence in case. And the evidence in the case still stands: they have to prove beyond reasonable doubt to those jurors," said Thomas.
Thomas says usually the jury is not told that a plea deal has taken place. He also says Kilpatrick is not considering a plea deal. Mercado will not be sentenced until after the corruption trial is over.
"He's greatly relieved, he'll be headed back home to Florida, he's very glad to see his family again. He hasn't been home for 3 months," said Minock.
Minock says Mercado is hoping to get his job as a sales clerk in a hardware store back. When asked if Mercado can ever get another job running a water system with a felony conviction on his record, Minock said the indictment alone ensured that would never happen again.