Kilpatrick trial: Defense tries to show money came from gifts

(WXYZ) - The defense painted Kwame Kilpatrick as a man that people loved to give money to-- from his wedding to his birthday parties.

But before the former mayor's lawyers could call any witnesses – the government nearly derailed their plans.

For a moment, I wondered if the defense was going to get to put any of Friday's scheduled witnesses on the stand.

Federal prosecutors immediately objected to the types of evidence that Kwame Kilpatrick's lawyer wanted to bring in through their character witnesses.

"I'll take a win on an argument. And today we had a win," said Jim Thomas.

He had to fight hard, but Judge Nancy Edmunds ultimately allowed Thomas to call the witnesses he wanted in the Kilpatrick corruption case on Friday.

"There was certain evidence that they ask that not be brought in. And we argued in chambers, and then we came out and argued on the record, and thank God she granted it for us," said Thomas.

Jim Thomas used several witnesses to demonstrate that for years – people "gifted" money to Detroit's former mayor.  Thomas is trying to combat allegations from the government that Kilpatrick's hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash transactions were from bribes and kickbacks. Instead Thomas says the feds never accounted for all the money supporters and friends willingly gave Kilpatrick over the years.

Up first – Joseph Zaineh – the owner of the Majestic Theater Center in Detroit. Zaineh testified that Kilpatrick's wife and mother threw him a 30th birthday party at the Majestic. Thomas showed the jury an invitation to the party that listed a "wishing well" for donations.

Thomas also showed the jury Kwame and Carlita's wedding invitation-- which announced "monetary gifts [were] preferred" at their reception.

Thomas used long-time Kilpatrick friend and former Civic Fund board member Erik Rayford to testify about gifting at Kilpatrick's 36th birthday party at the Atheneum Hotel.

And former Kilpatrick staffer Kizzi Montgomery testified that everyone in the mayor's office was expected to give money at Kilpatrick's birthday and at Christmas. She told the jury -- people at the top levels of his administration often gave up to $1000, but on cross-examination prosecutors got Montgomery to admit that they often used that money to purchase actual gifts – which would not account for all the cash in Kilpatrick's accounts.

"We were able to receive a number of donations," said William Tandy, the Head Coach of the Westside Cubs Little League football organization.

Federal prosecutors allege it was improper for the Kilpatrick Civic Fund to give the Cubs more than $10,000 because the former mayor's own kids played on the team.  But Tandy said the checks were truly donations and that the Kilpatrick children paid their own way.

"Our organization received money from Coleman Young when he was mayor. Our organization received money from Dennis Archer when he was mayor.  So we've always known the city could help, and when he got there, he was no different," said Tandy.

The defense also used Westside Cubs coach to show that the Kilpatrick Civic Fund gave money to all of the football teams in the Police Athletic League – not just the team where his kids played for many of the years that the civic fund donated.

Kilpatrick's defense team told the judge that for 4 of the 5 years in question for the Civic Fund portion of the case -- the government is only focused on .8% of the all of the money that came in to the non-profit during that timeframe

But federal prosecutors say it doesn't matter if Kilpatrick followed the law for some of the money or even most of the money -- with things like yoga lessons and luxury vacations and Cadillac's paid for with money from the non-profit, the law was broken.

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