Day 1: Kilpatrick trial begins; Prosecutors use shock and awe, while defense asks for caution

DETROIT (WXYZ) - The most anticipated criminal trial in Detroit's history got underway Friday. Investigator Ross Jones was inside federal court providing up-to-the-minute blog updates.  You can follow his blog below:

1:55--Evelyn wraps it up: With his left hand in his pocket, Evelyn is making his final pitch to the jury to tie-up the defense's argument as he strolls between the podium and the jury.

"It's been said that the government always wins when justice is served," Evelyn said.

"Serve justice in this case and find my client not guilty."

And with that, opening statements have concluded for the day.  We'll be back Monday at 9AM and, as always, I'll be here blogging everything that comes out of federal court.  Thanks so much for joining us. 

1:48--Ferguson didn't need Kilpatrick: Evelyn says his client had plenty of big paydays before Kwame Kilpatrick ever took office.  He rattled off a list of major corporations that Ferguson did work for before Kilpatrick ever was elected mayor.

Evelyn said Ferguson's biggest contract with the city came under Mayor Dennis Archer, not his friend Kwame Kilpatrick.

"There was no conspiracy in this case," Evelyn shouted.

1:36--Quality vs. Quantity: It's clear why the defense left attorney Gerald Evelyn to bring up the anchor for their opening statements.  Evelyn, who represents Bobby Ferguson, is a gifted speaker and has a knack for captivating a jury. 

He challenged the jurors to be skeptical of the government's case.

"They have a lot of quantity in this case," he said, mentioning the scores of witnesses who will testify over the next four months.

"They don't have quality," he said.

Evelyn said the government is relying on about 40 text messages out of a sea of hundreds of thousands.  The defense, he promises, will put them into context that will neutralize them. 

Evelyn also quickly lit into another frequent target of the defense, the Detroit media, saying they've "joined forces" with the government.

12:31--Break for lunch: With only one defendant's lawyer left to speak, court is in recess for the next hour for lunch.

12:21--The cleanest hands in Detroit: To hear John Shea tell it, Bernard Kilpatrick and his co-defendants were the only honest men left in Detroit.  Speaking in even tones, he is assailing the character of scores of witnesses who will testify against his client and others: James Rosendall, Karl Kado, Rayford Jackson, Marc Andre Cunningham and others.  They all have plenty of dirty laundry, he said, but none of it belongs to his client. 

It's an uphill battle for Shea, to be sure, but one he has to make if he wants to beat the feds' more than 150 witnesses set to testify against the defendants.

12:12--Witnesses "dirty to begin with:" Shea is going one by one through a list of key prosecution witnesses, attacking their credibility as best he can. Marc Andre Cunningham, he said, was "dirty to begin with."  Cunningham admitted to delivering a $15,000 cash bribe to Bernard Kilpatrick, and received a plea deal with the government.

Shea said Cunningham had been caught up in the law in New Jersey before he met Kilpatrick, and that his testimony in this case was paid for by the feds.

As for Karl Kado, a city contractor who said he had to pay Bernard Kilpatrick to keep his Cobo Hall contracts, Shea says Kado, too, was dirty: caught bribing the director of Cobo Hall. All money he paid to Bernard Kilpatrick was for services that he rendered as a consultant, he said.

12:05--Bernard Kilpatrick just a "consultant:" My apologies for the break in the blogging...had to run outside to bring our viewers up to date no 7 Action News at Noon.

Bernard Kilpatrick's lawyer John Shea is addressing the jurors now, saying emphatically that his the mayor's father wasn't a bag man shaking down contractors; he was a business consultant that vendors hired to learn the ins and outs of government contracting.

11:38--No texts for Victor: As Crandall continues to paint Mercado as the ultimate outsider, he's stressing the fact that Mercado was never texted by Kilpatrick, his father or Ferguson.

"He was outside the circle of trust," he said.

Mercado was referred to as the "Hispanic" in text messages, he said, and wasn't trusted by Kilpatrick and others.

11:21--Victor denied gifts:  Crandall said Mercado was offered gratuities, not bribes, by contractors like Jim Rosendall from Synagro, who offered to fly him up on a corporate jet to the annual Mackinac Policy Conference. Mercado, his lawyer says, said no all gifts. 

"It's not in his DNA," he said.

Crandall is clearly trying to draw a clear distinction between his client and how the feds painted Kilpatrick and company: an honest government employee vs. a free-wheeling group of politicians who took every luxury they could grab. 

11:19--Crandall's style: Unlike Chutkow and Thomas, Crandall's opening statement meanders from time to time.  He continues to make key points in his argument for his client's innocence, but continues to get caught

up in unnecessary minutia.  We can't see the jurors from our vantage point, so it's hard to say if their attention has wained at all.

11:11--Defendants' demeanor: As attorney Martin Crandall makes his opening statement, each of the defendants are listening intently, as they have all morning.  Kwame Kilpatrick is resting his head on his hand while his father Bernard has his hands clasped as he leans back in his chair.  Ferguson was seen writing on a sticky note, while Mercado has his elbow resting on the defense table.

11:08--From water chief to store clerk: Crandall said that his client fell and fell hard after he was indicted by the feds. He went from working as a well-paid water department chief to a lowly store clerk.

And that high salary he got in Detroit?  It wasn't chosen by Kilpatrick, he said, but by a federal judge who oversaw the water department.

11:01--"Victor never got a dime:" And it didn't take long for that wildcard to be played.

"Victor Mercado never got a dime.  Never got a penny," Crandall said.  He is using visual aides placed on an easel--maybe he's not up on this whole Powerpoint thing--though we can't see from our vantage point what they say.

He's painting his client as collateral damage in the Kilpatrick case: an innocent man caught up in a mess that he had nothing to do with.

10:58--"Victor Mercado is not guilty:" It looks like Mercado's lawyer, not Ferguson's will go next.  Attorney Martin Crandall is now addressing the verdict.  Speaking slowly and deliberately, he said the jury must acquit his client by the trial's end.

As we've reported, Mercado is the wildcard of this trial.  He's trying to paint himself as a victim of Kilptrick's alleged racketeering scheme. 

10:31--Thomas sits down: After only 15 minutes or so, Thomas sat down, but not before asking the jury to acquit his client.  We're on a 15-minute break right now before Bobby Ferguson's attorney is set to speak.

10:27--Attacking witness credibility: The government's case is built on weak witness testimony, Thomas said, including a man suffering from dementia, a gambling addict, and others who wanted to save their own skin by making a deal with the government.

10:24--Differing styles: A fascinating difference between Chutkow and Thomas's speaking styles before the jury.  Chutkow read from prepared remarks, looking up every few seconds at the jury and using hand gestures to drive his key points home.

Thomas, on the other hand, appears to be following off of notes, sometimes pausing for several seconds before getting to his next point.  While Chutkow sounded outraged in his opening statement, Thomas sounds slightly annoyed. 

10:20--It's not always pretty: Minutes ago, Thomas said that if Kilpatrick is guilty of anything, it's playing politics...which is far from illegal.

"Politics is like making sausage. It's not pretty.  It's messy, but when it's cooked, it's pretty good," he said.

10:17--Not hiding from friends: Turning around and pointing to his client's co-defendants, Thomas said no one is apologizing for the friendship between Kilpatrick, Ferguson and his father Bernard Kilpatrick. 

Calling his dad a "wonderful campaigner and wonderful fundraiser," he is trying to paint defendants the co-defendants that Chutkow just spent almost an hour vilifying.

Victor Mercado was hired after a rigorous nationwide search for a water department chief, Thomas said, and was an "innovative" leader. 

Thomas is also trying to throw cold water on the powerful text messages shown in Chutkow's Powerpoint presentation.  Thomas called it "snippets of conversation" taken out of context.

10:11--Kilpatrick's attorney is up: After about a 45-minute opening statement, Mark Chutkow has returned to his seat.  Jim Thomas, one of Kilpatrick's lawyers, is up first. 

"You've all been exposed to stories about Mr. Kilpatrick, and I think we just heard another one," Thomas said. 

"We are going to show you a complete picture--not just snippets--of what went on here," he said.

10:08--Show me the money: Continuing his Powerpoint presentation, Chutkow just showed pictures of two safes stuffed to the top with $100 bills; money, he says, that was found in Ferguson's possession.  Much of that cash, Chutkow said, ended up in Kwame Kilpatrick's pockets. 

"This was not politics as usual.  This was extortion, bribery, fraud," Chutkow said. 

10:03--Bernard and Synagro: Bernard Kilpatrick threatened to kill the well-known billion dollar Synagro sludge contract, Chutkow said, because Synagro employee Jim Rosendall refused to hire Bernard Kilpatrick as a consultant.

In a wiretapped conversation, Kilpatrick can be heard saying that he was tempted to go to "the man," who Chutkow said was his son," and have him "kill it."

10:00--Mercado enters the picture: The scheme to defraud the city's water department would not have been possible, Chutkow said, were it not for department chief Victor Mercado's cooperation.

Mercado, in exchange for $240,000 a year in salary, made

sure that Ferguson received millions in city contracts even when he wasn't the lowest or best bidder, he said.

The water department chief was so paranoid about what he was doing that he is alleged to have had his office swept for listening devices.

9:53--Retaliation for Ferguson: Chutkow said Ferguson used Kilpatrick to retaliate against vendors who didn't pay him quickly enough. 

One of them, called Club Rain, allegedly owed Ferguson $20,000.

"IS IT ALRIGHT IF BLDS SAFETY (EXPLETIVE) WITH HIS PERMIT" asked Ferguson, referring to the city's buildings and safety department. 

"will call later," Kilpatrick responded.

Still, Ferguson was instructed by Kilpatrick to hide the true nature of their friendship, Chutkow said.  When he was asked by a reporter how he knew Kilpatrick, Ferguson allegedly texted Kilpatrick for guidance.

"Confirm nothing," Kilpatrick responded.

9:46--Lots of red meat:  Chutkow is pulling out all the stops, using a power point presentation to aide in his explosive opening statement that is filled with substantial allegations about Kilpatrick and others.

Showing text messages on a large screen projector, Chutkow showed a conversation between Ferguson and Kilpatrick.  In it, Kilpatrick said he was "holding a contract" for Ferguson. 

"No deal without me," Ferguson is alleged to have said to city contractors.

City contractor Tony Soave was forced to drop one subcontractor, Chutkow said, and replace him with Ferguson's company.  Soave was extorted, the feds say, to provide Kilpatrick with free jet travel across the country.

9:43--Civic Fund: Kilpatrick misused hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Kilpatrick Civic Fund for things like summer camp for his kids, golf clubs, travel across the country and more. 

He even used almost $160,000, Chutkow said, on his political campaigns, spending it on polling, consultants and focus groups. 

9:34--Ferguson enters the picture: It didn't take long for Bobby Ferguson to be mentioned.  Chutkow said Ferguson called himself "the mayor's soldier" whose star rose in tandem with Kilpatrick's.

Ferguson and Kilpatrick began defrauding the taxpayers not just while he was mayor, but also while he was a state legislator in Lansing. 

Ferguson had 24/7 access to Kilpatrick and was often seen inside the Mayor's office, Chutkow said. 

9:29--"Let's get us some money:" Assistant US Attorney Mark Chutkow is up first, and he's starting things off with a bang, quoting what are either text messages or wire taps from the former mayor and his co-defendants:

"Let's get us some money."

"No deal without me."

"It's my time to get paid."

Chutkow told jurors that once he became mayor, Kilpatrick began depositing more than $200,000 in cash into his bank account; amounts that weren't too big to catch anyone's attention, but certainly added up. Chutkow told jurors than he paid his credit cards--more than $280,000--in cash.  No doubt Chutkow is trying to connect with jurors by giving them a very relatable example: paying their bills.  Do you pay your credit card with cash?

All told, Kilpatrick is alleged to have spent more than $540,000 in cash transactions while he was mayor.

9:19--Laundry list of charges: How complicated is this case going to be for the jury?  Just reading off and explaining all the charges(racketeering, bribery, extortion and more) has taken Judge Edmunds ten minutes.  It's a lot to handle, even for a team of lawyers, so the prosecution will surely want to make sure they explain this case as simply as possible to the jury in its opening statement.

9:04--Good luck: Moments before Judge Nancy Edmunds brought in the jury, Kwame Kilpatrick reached over to shake the hand of his friend and co-defendant Bobby Ferguson. Yesterday was a good day for Ferguson, who may already be feeling lucky: the feds dropped 9 of the 22 charges against the former city contractor.  They said it was simply to "streamline" a very complicated case.

Judge Edmunds is currently reading jury instructions to the 12 jurors and 6 alternates; we expect this to take about 15 minutes, and is standard procedure for any criminal trial.

8:59--The bow tie's back: After taking a few days off, Kilpatrick is again donning a bow tie as he sits at the defense table.  Is it strategy, meant to make him look more studious and sophisticated to the jury?  Or just another reminder that Kilpatrick is Detroit's most fashion-forward (former) mayor?  

8:50--Court set to begin: After two weeks of jury selection, attempts to have attorneys taken off the case and even move it to Tennessee, the long-awaited Kilpatrick corruption trial begins in minutes in Judge Nancy Edmunds' courtroom.

Assembled inside already are lawyers for Bobby Ferguson and Victor Mercado, while the legal teams of Kwame and Bernard Kilpatrick have yet to make their arrival at the counsel table.  Moments ago, Detroit's new FBI chief Robert Foley walked into the courtroom, flanked by two other federal agents.  This case is almost certainly

his office's most high-profile in years, and he surely wants to send a message to the jury that his office takes this trial very seriously.

Print this article Back to Top

Comments