Day 21: Lawyers spar over texts' meaning in Kilpatrick corruption trial

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Earlier today, 7 Action News Investigator Ross Jones blogged from day 21 of the Kilpatrick corruption trial  at federal court.  Follow along below:

1:01-- Done today: Thanks for joining us today.  We'll be back tomorrow at 9 AM.

12:54--Next witness: We won't get to him today, but the next witness in this case is a city contractor named Thomas Hardiman, who the feds say will testify Ferguson hurt his business with the city.  Consider this a promo for tomorrow's blog. 

12:50--My people: Back to the "my people" text, where Rataj had earlier argued Ferguson was talking about the African-American race and not his company, Chutkow suggests that--if he was--Ferguson would have said "our people" in his message to Kilpatrick.  Both are, after all, African-American. 

12:47--Hurting minorities: Earlier today, Ferguson lawyer Mike Rataj argued that Bobby Ferguson was devoted to supporting other African-American contractors bidding for city work.  Chutkow is now asking Paskiewicz if, in her investigation, she ever found that Ferguson harmed minority contractors' business.  She said Ferguson did, sometimes forcing them to pay Ferguson for work he never did.

12:44--Kick out a bidder?  Going over a text message first introduced yesterday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow argues Ferguson and Kilpatrick wanted Victor Mercado to throw out a Ferguson competitor. 

"Victor is full of (expletive) he told me the oridence didn't let himthrow poisen out that's a damn lie. We will talk tonight," he wrote.

Again, lots of typos in these messages, but "poisen" appears to be referencing another bidder. 

12:20--Lots of typos: As you may have noticed from the text messages we've quoted, Bobby Ferguson and others made lots of typos in their messages.  That makes it harder to decipher their meaning, and don't think the defense isn't trying to use that to their advantage.  Jim Thomas is reading from one particular message that is filled with grammatical errors and typos. Reasonable doubt, anyone?

12:15--Still on the stand: Paskiewicz is still on the stand, now under cross-examination by Kwame Kilpatrick's lawyer Jim Thomas.

Sorry for the delay in blog posts. Had to run outside to do a quick update on 7 Action News at Noon.

11:45--Others got change orders: Before sitting down, Rataj showed the jury that other city contractors used more change orders than his client Bobby Ferguson.  Again, change orders are price mark-ups to a contract when a contractor runs into "unforeseen circumstances" that require them to do more work.

11:24--Texts: Give Rataj points for creativity.  He's trying to attack a text message that the government introduced yesterday where Ferguson texted Kwame Kilpatrick with fears he was about to lose a bid.  Ferguson was worried that the company overseeing the projected "stoped negotiations with my people and is trying to give the watermain job to one of the other contractors."

So what exactly does "my people" mean?  At first blush, it seems like Ferguson is talking about his company. But Rataj, playing off of his client's "racial pride" he mentioned earlier, said Ferguson could have been referring to the black race or even another minority contractor.

Paskiewicz said it was possible, but not likely.

11:18--Proud man: Ferguson, Rataj says, is "proud to be a black man," and was interested in "helping other black people" in the City of Detroit.  Rataj is talking about text messages that Paskiewicz reviewed, perhaps trying to blunt any racially-charged text messages that will come out. 

10:42--Short break: Stay with us.

10:23--Price not important? Like he did yesterday, Rataj is trying to argue that price was irrelevant to the city when it solicited proposals to replace the city's water mains.  But according to an e-mail that outlined the criteria for picking bidders, price was listed first, followed by economic development, ability to perform the work and the company's past performance.

10:14--Testy exchange: Normally it's Rataj who's riled up in the courtroom, but it was agent Paskiewicz who just threw a quick elbow from the witness stand (figuratively, of course).

Asked if she understood the need to open up city business to minority groups, Paskiewicz said: "I'm a female in law enforcement, sir. I think I've faced discrimination in my life."

10:10--Rewarding city biz: Rataj is showing the jury a 1994 memo from then Mayor Dennis Archer, detailing how the city will aim to use Detroit-based businesses when giving out contracts.  He's trying to tell the jury that price wasn't the most important thing when awarding city business: it also mattered where the business was located.  

10:02--Unfair advantage? This may be a little "inside baseball," so my apologies if this bores you.  Ferguson attorney Mike Rataj is cross-examining EPA agent Paskiewicz, and noted that she has sat in on every day of trial so far.  That's not unusual, as an entire team of other federal agents who've worked on this case are seated with or next to the U.S. attorney.

Normally, witnesses are sequestered in another room before testifying, in part, so they can't tailor their testimony to a previous witness they heard testify.  Essentially, Rataj is trying to suggest Paskiewicz's testimony isn't necessarily her own: she's relying on what she's heard throughout the last 21 days of trial from other witnesses. 

9:57--Oh, brother: Martin Crandall is a great lawyer, but he's not the best at asking direct questions.  He often drones on and sometimes gets lost in detail that isn't relevant to the case.  Judge Nancy Edmunds is apparently not a fan.

"Mr. Crandall, you need to ask a question," she said.

9:45--Money man: Crandall also showed Paskiewicz salaries of other water department chiefs during Mercado's tenure, including that of Mercado's Los Angeles counterpart who made $330,000.  Mercado made $240,000 in Detroit, and the government has argued that his salary (which was higher than Kilpatrick's) was part of his incentive to continue the alleged criminal enterprise.  Crandall's argument?  He was underpaid, if anything. 

9:42--Monthly meetings: Crandall points out that during his six years at the water department, Mercado met with Judge Feikens each month to update him on the department's inner-workings. What's he trying to argue here?  That Mercado couldn't have done anything improper while because he was always being watched by Feikens.

9:31--Mercado not the boss: We're getting a little in the weeds here, so stay with me.  Crandall is arguing that even though he was the department head, Victor Mercado wasn't the head of the water department.  He says the ultimate authority was U.S. District Court Judge John Feikens, who oversaw the water department for more than 30 years until his death as part of a lawsuit settlement.

Feikens (and now Judge Sean Cox) oversaw the department after a lawsuit over pollution being pumped into the Detroit River.

9:16--Not a fan:  Crandall reminded the jury that in text messages we saw yesterday, the other defendants in the case referred to Mercado as "full of (expletive)" and "a slick man."  Crandall said that in a text message he has seen but has not yet introduced in court, one of the defendants asks if Mercado can be trusted.  Crandall asked Paskiewicz if she would agree that  Mercado was not a "trusted confidante" of the Mayor's.

She would not.

9:08--The inner-circle: Paskiewicz is being cross-examined by Victor Mercado's lawyer Martin Crandall, who is asking the agent whether most of Kilpatrick's texts went to people in his "kitchen cabinet" (another way to say "inner-circle"), and not Mr. Mercado.  Paskiewicz agreed. 

"Mr. Mercado, in terms of text messages, was dramatically smaller," Crandall said, adding that his client and Mr. Kilpatrick exchanged about 500 text messages out of the half-million that the government reviewed.

9:06--Welcome back: It's day 21 of the Kilpatrick trial, and we're picking up where we left off yesterday.  EPA special agent Carol Paskiewicz is back on the stand today, answering questions right now about text messages she reviewed belonging to the defendants.

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