DETROIT - For years – the FBI Special Agent who was at the center of the Kilpatrick Corruption Case has only ever been able to tell us "no comment."
FBI protocol and grand jury secrecy laws prevented anyone associated with the case from saying anything.
But now that a jury has convicted Detroit's former mayor – the lead case agent has finally agreed to take us inside this historic investigation.
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH AGENT BEECKMAN BELOW:
7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo asked FBI Special Agent Bob Beeckman if he would sit down for an interview and answer as many questions as possible… and he agreed to speak on behalf of his team.
Kwame Kilpatrick and Bobby Ferguson are now behind bars – convicted of corruption so widespread federal prosecutors called it "breathtaking."
Now the man who built the case against the former mayor, his father, and his friend… is finally talking about the 8 ½ year investigation that changed city hall forever.
"If you have public officials that betray the trust of citizens, the whole fabric of society comes apart," said Beeckman.
Special Agent Beeckman led a team of about 70 agents. Together they interviewed 1000 witnesses, poured over 400,000 text messages… and landed 35 convictions.
"Do you ever step back and look at the role that you played in changing the political landscape here in Detroit," asked Catallo.
"I don't think we stop and say hey we've fixed the problem let's go do something else. But like I said, it's rewarding work, I think we're pleased with the result we've had here," said Beeckman.
"What was your first sense that something was amiss in the Kilpatrick administration," asked Catallo.
"Well, we had a number of different people who had given us information. In a public corruption case, and this is no different than any other Public Corruption case – you can't open a Public Corruption case on single source information. We would never take the word of one person and potentially ruin a public official's reputation. It always has to be more than one source. In this case we had quite a number of sources, and they were sources that ranged from things like maybe another agent would have a case and there would be a defendant who would cooperate, provide some information. Or someone would call with a complaint, or maybe another contractor would make a complaint or that sort of thing," said Beeckman.
Special Agent Beeckman says after enough people came forward with stories of what the FBI calls "systemic corruption" in Kilpatrick's administration – this veteran agent and his partners in the US Attorney's office got approval from Washington DC to open a case. What followed was years of doggedly chasing down leads and evidence – and getting reluctant witnesses to cooperate.
"Did you have a witness you thought was the best for the case," asked Catallo.
"The text message is the most important witness.. I don't think you can beat the defendants own words that were in a text message," said Beeckman.
"Were you just sort of stunned at times with what you were reading," asked Catallo.
"I think so in some cases, there would be times you would read a text message, and scratch your head and say why would somebody put that in a text message? We'd call our partners and say guess what I got? It'd be one of those eureka type moments, where you find something that's really valuable and end up being an exhibit some day," said Beeckman.
Text messages weren't the only piece to this puzzle – the FBI also used undercover video and of course – those wiretaps.
"Is there a reason you only wiretapped Bernard and not the other targets," asked Catallo.
"The law is – it's not just that you had to have probable cause that somebody is committing a crime, you have to have probable cause they're committing a crime using that particular telephone to commit one of the crimes that's mentioned in the wiretapping statute. So It's not a matter of well we know this person is committing crimes and they have a telephone. That won't get it. You have to have probable cause that particular person is using that phone before we can do that. And we didn't have that evidence on anybody except Bernard Kilpatrick at the time that we had those wiretapping orders," said Beeckman.
Bernard Kilpatrick was ultimately only convicted of a tax charge.
Beeckman says even though they ended up with a hung jury for him on the racketeering conspiracy -- he says the RICO guilty verdicts for the former mayor and Ferguson were worth all those years of work.
"What was going thru your mind when you heard that verdict," asked Catallo.
"I think my heart was pounding as much as everybody's, it was certainly a dramatic moment, one of the most dramatic moments I've experienced in my career. I think even a casual observer who didn't know what was going on, if they had walked into that courtroom at that minute, would have felt the drama of the moment, and I was just relieved that it worked out the way it did. And that the jury saw it our way. That they thought they were guilty of count 1. The RICO conspiracy – that meant a lot to me," said Beeckman.
"You feel absolutely positive justice was served," asked Catallo.
"Absolutely. 100%," said Beeckman.
Special Agent Beeckman also says the FBI can't do anything about corruption unless people like you tell them about it. You can reach them at 313-965-2323.