Feds say he's a crook, but Bernard Kilpatrick insists he did everything above board

DETROIT (WXYZ) - It's been decades since he was the darling of Detroit's Westside playground basketball courts.

The skills that the tall, aggressive Bernard Kilpatrick developed made him a star in high school and college in the fifties, and carried him to a short stint in a pro league. As an adult, his politics would see him elected as a Wayne County Commissioner, and a member of County Executive Ed McNamara's cabinet.

But what matters now is that Bernard Kilpatrick is the father of Detroit's former Mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, and that both have been indicted by the federal government for misconduct that could send them both to prison for a very long time.

So who is Bernard Kilpatrick, and why do the feds think he's part of a criminal enterprise his son is accused of running out of city hall? Investigators will layout what they say is a mountain of evidence backed by dozens of witnesses in a trial set to begin this week.

Bernard Kilpatrick has a few nicknames: "Killer" for his reputation on the court, and some say with women, and "Big Goofy", the term friends and enemies use behind his back.

But maybe most telling is what he called his son. He often referred to Kwame as "Michael Corleone"—mobster from movie "The Godfather." But if Kwame is Michael Corleone, that would make Bernard the Godfather, a handle the feds says he tried to earn behind the scenes in his son' administration.

In the audience for that historic first inaugural speech back in January of 2002 was proud papa Bernard Kilpatrick, standing ready to embrace the words of his son, Detroit's new Mayor. "Everyone is allowed to participate in the progress and prosperity of this city," Kilpatrick told a packed house at the Fox Theatre downtown.

So did Bernard Kilpatrick expect to personally prosper? For years rumors swirled among reporters: to do business with the city, contractors had to go through Bernard's now defunct consulting company Maestro Associates.

Jim Schaefer, reporter for the Detroit Free Press heard the rumors. " Yeah, we had heard lots about Maestro over the years," he told 7 Action News.

"The problem was trying to prove it."

7 Action News Investigator Scott Lewis, a longtime reporter in the Detroit market also heard it.

"We heard complaints from businessmen that they were getting shaken down, but nobody would go on the record," he said.

Reporters say contractors told them they feared that if they did go public, it would kill any chance of doing business with the city. 

It was soon after his son took office that Bernard left his job working for Wayne County to start Maestro Associates.  According to the federal indictment, through Maestro Associates, Bernard demanded payoffs and gifts from companies looking to do business with the Kilpatrick administration.

The feds allege Bernard took in more than $600,000 in cash gifts and private jet trips to exotic places, and then, failed to pay income taxes on most, if not all of it.

Bernard would not talk to 7 Action News for this story, but in a previous interview he denied charges that he took bribes from contractors:

"Bribes? How could they bribe me?," Kilpatrick told reporter Mike Rosenfield.

"I don't work for the city. I'm a private businessman, a consultant," Kilpatrick said.

But some black business men thought Kilpatrick's election would lead to more business for minorities in the city. Some like Larry Mongo say the opposite happened and Bernard was expecting to do business with white companies. Mongo told 7 Action News that Bernard put it rather bluntly.

" 'Now that he won, Well get all the white money we want,' " Mongo and witnesses say they heard Bernard Kilpatrick say at a meeting of the African American Men's Organization in 2002

So, who will the government bring to show that Bernard Kilpatrick was a conduit for city bribes? In January of 2009, he told 7 Action News he wasn't  worried about that.

"Rats coming out the wood pile talking stuff now," Kilpatrick said. " The majority of people in this town know that the Kilpatrick's have served this community."

Bernard has always maintained that he did nothing more than run a consulting firm, helping clients looking to do business with the city.

So do you think for the jury it could come down to where does lobbying stop and extortion start? Reporter Schafer answered that question this way.

"I think that is going to be it. I've always thought, that was the government's challenge. Did these guys intend to break the law?" Schafer said.

"I do think that will be a big part of the defense, at least for Bernard."

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