Day 36: Detroit business titan says company "felt the threat" from Kilpatrick, Bobby Ferguson

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Earlier today, 7 Action News Investigator Ross Jones blogged all the news to come from day 36 of the Kwame Kilpatrick corruption trial.  Follow along below:

12:55--The end: That's all for now.  Mr. Soave will be back on the stand tomorrow, and I hope you'll be with us to follow along.

12:52--Using the plane: For the first time, the defense is bringing up the use of Soave's jets.  He says that in at least one case--during the 2003 blackout--Soave allowed the mayor to use his jets "for the betterment of the city."

12:50--Personal talk: Gurewitz asked Soave if he ever talked to the Mayor about his divorce.  Soave has he could have, but seems unsure.  Gurewitz already pointed out that the two engaged in friendly conversation from time to time, talked politics and had a very positive relationship during Kilpatrick's administration.

"You liked him a lot?" Gurewitz asked Soave.

"Yeah," he responded.

"You're generous with people you like. That's just how you are," Gurewitz said.

"Yeah," Soave said.

12:42--Grand jury testimony: Gurewitz appears to be trying to show that Soave's testimony today is conflicting with his previous testimony before a grand jury in 2010.  Here's a question asked in 2010:

"If I recall correctly, the mayor never said that if you didn't use Bobby Ferguson, you wouldn't get any work"

Soave responded, "No."

But Soave seems to be saying that his answer then and now are still the same. He was saying "No," it would  be incorrect to say the Mayor didn't say he needed to hire Ferguson. 

"I asked what the hold-up was on the job.  He said you have the wrong contractor," Soave said just now.

"I said who's the right contractor?  He said Bobby Ferguson.  You don't want to hear it.  That's the way it went."

It doesn't help that the 2010 grand jury question had a triple-negative in it.  It seems somewhat open to interpretation. 

12:32--Attacking memory: Gurewtiz is probing Soave's recollection of his meeting with Kwame Kilpatrick back in 2002 (more than 10 years ago), where the Mayor allegedly told him he was holding up his contract because he didn't hire Bobby Ferguson.

Soave acknowledges that he doesn't remember the exact words used or the exact sentences. 

"I can only remember what I had to do, which was to change contractors.  And that's what I did," Soave said emphatically.

12:29--More laughter: Gurewitz asked the Soave if he had trouble remembering details. 

"I don't have dementia, if that's what your asking," Soave said.  That prompted more courtroom laughter.

You'll recall that a previous government witness, Karl Kado, acknowledged previous concerns that he suffered from dementia.

12:28--Mayor didn't sign: Gurewitz is showing the jury a copy of the signed contract for Inland Waters. It is signed by lots of people, but not the Mayor of Detroit.

12:10--Memo to Soave: Gurewitz showed the jury a memo from one of Soave's lawyers to him.  It included concerns that contracts were supposedly being held up by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and specifically contracts for companies that supported Kilpatrick's opponent Gil Hill.

The memo went on to say that it appeared contracts were being steered to, among other contractors, Bobby Ferguson. It's not clear why Gurewitz showed this memo, as I'm not clear it bolsters his case.

Sorry for the delay in blog posts.  Had to run outside to do a quick live shot for our 7 Action News at Noon viewers.

11:45--Big heart: Gurewitz says Soave has a big heart, and points out that he's donated to lots of charities. And he wanted to keep politicians happy, too, Gurewitz says.  He's continuing Rataj's argument that he wanted to keep local power brokers happy. 

It's interesting that Rataj and (so far) Gurewitz have not mentioned directly all of the jet trips, gifts, hotel rooms, etc. that Soave says he felt forced to provide the Mayor.  They are only touching on the issue generally, saying that Soave (like any businessman) wanted to have a good relationship with a public official.

11:38--How hands-on?  Gurewtiz is trying to figure out how hands-on of a boss Soave was back in 2002, when this contract was up in play. Soave says he poked his nose in some things, but relied on his managers for information.

11:25--Rataj's done: Rataj is taking a seat, after scoring a point with his last argument.  Now one of Kwame Kilpatrick's other lawyers Harold Gurewitz will cross-examine Soave.  We haven't really heard anything from Gurewitz until today. 

11:15--Matter of timing: Rataj is trying to cast doubt on Soave's testimony yesterday that the Mayor held up his contract because he didn't hire his friend Bobby Ferguson. He's using the fact that Inland Waters began work on the project before it was formally approved to show the contract, in fact, was not held up. 

It wasn't approved formally until June 26, 2002. 

11:09--Getting ugly: Amidst a flurry of debate between the Judge, Bullotta and Rataj over whether or not Rataj was properly questioning Soave, Rataj called for a private meeting with the Judge.

"Let's have a sidebar," Rataj said.

"You get to call the sidebars now?" Judge Edmunds snapped. 

The lawyers then met at sidebar.

11:05--Started work: Rataj just showed Soave an invoice which shows that Inland Waters charged the City of Detroit for more than $200,000 of work in March 2002. The problem, though, was that the contract hadn't yet been approved by the Detroit City Council. 

10:53--We're back: With Soave still on the stand.  Rataj is asking him about a $50 million sewer repair contract that his company Inland Waters received.

10:27--Break time: Time for a short commercial break in this comedy show.  Judge is giving everyone a few minutes to catch their breath and stretch their legs.  Stay with us.

10:20--Rataj's defense: It seems that Rataj has laid the groundwork for his defense.

"Isn't it true that Mayor Kilpatrick was trying to get rid of pass-through contractors?" he asked.

"I never heard that before. I didn't think he wanted it, but I don't think any mayor wants it," Soave responded.

"Pass-through contractors" is a reference to minority-fronts: companies that use a minority to help score extra points in the bidding process and, once they're awarded the contract, use someone else to actually complete the work. 

Rataj is saying that Charlie Williams (Soave's original partner) was just a "pass-through contractor," while Bobby Ferguson was a legitimate minority-owned company.  Kwame Kilpatrick wanted him to hire Bobby because it would help the city; not because it would help Bobby (or the Mayor, for that matter).

It's an argument for sure.  Will jurors buy it? We'll see.

10:10--Felt the threat: Rataj is trying to suggest that a business titan like Soave couldn't be pushed around by anyone, whether it's the Mayor or Bobby Ferguson.  Soave says he gave into some of Ferguson's requests because he was fearful of angering Mayor Kilpatrick.

"We felt the threat, he was asking for things that were just..." Soave said before pausing.

"Ask Mrs. McCann about that, she'll tell you," he said.  Kathleen McCann is a former vice-president of Soave's who we expect to testify later.

10:07--Real character: I can't see the jurors from where I'm sitting, but my guess is that Soave strikes them as a pretty likeable guy so far.  For those who haven't seen him, Soave is a heavyset, silver-haired Italian fellow who refuses to raise his voice to Rataj (who continues to raise his).  He's put the courtroom in stitches more than a few times: even the Kilpatricks and Bobby Ferguson have roared with laughter at some of his quips and jokes.

Soave appears to be somewhat grandfatherly...if your grandfather was a multi-millionaire who owned Maserati dealerships, scrap companies, waste-treatment facilities and grew "big tomatoes."

10:01--Ouch: Soave says that if he ever pushed back at Bobby Ferguson, it was because he was trying to get paid for work he didn't complete.

"We made him do the work, or what he got paid for," Soave said.

10:00--Getting tense: For the second time, Judge Edmunds has an issue with Rataj's questioning.  Specifically, he's spent a few minutes asking Soave about Ferguson's background and his history as a contractor.  Soave has said several times already that he doesn't know anything about Ferguson's past projects.

Judge Edmunds told Rataj to "move along."

"If you're going to admonish me, I'd prefer you do it at sidebar," Rataj said. 

"Come on, Mr. Rataj," Judge Edmunds said.

9:55--Degrees of agitation: Rataj is talking about Soave's claim yesterday that Ferguson was a "burr in his saddle."  He said he heard complaint after complaint from his staff about Ferguson.  Rataj said that Soave, who built his company to a $2.5 billion empire, was surely a "burr" under some saddles, too.

"There are different kinds of burrs," Soave said, later adding, "I'm a loveable guy." 

The courtroom, again, erupted in laughter. 

9:48--Charlie Williams: Rataj seems to be honing in on Soave's business relationship with Charlie Williams.  He's not well-known amongst the public, but to Detroit and Wayne County insiders, he's a power broker who knows the halls of local government as well as just about anybody.

"You used Mr. Williams," Rataj said

"What he brought to the table was relationships and access," he said.

Soave disagreed, saying he was mentoring Williams.  Rataj accuses Soave of using Williams as a "minority front." Williams is African-American. 

9:46--Friends in high places: "You will admit it's good to be friends with politicians, will you not?"

"It's good to be friends with the mayor of the city where you're working," Soave said. 

That led Rataj to suggest that currying favor with public officials is "the way of the world."

"You want access....you want to pick up the phone and...cut through the bureaucracy and go right through to the boss," Rataj said.

Soave said he considered fmr. Detroit Mayors Coleman Young and Dennis Archer as well as fmr. Governor John Engler, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Fmr. Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara as friends of his as well.

9:38--Lighter moment:  Rataj asked Soave about the $2.5 billion in revenue his company produced in 2008.

"That's a lot of money," Rataj suggested.

"It's a lotta muchachos, yeah" Soave said. The courtroom, including all the defendants, erupted in laughter.

Soave's a real character, if you haven't already noticed.

9:37--Judge upset: Judge Nancy Edmunds is slapping down Rataj, who's reading from a Forbes article about Soave Enterprises' revenue in 2008. 

"Mr. Rataj!  You can't do that!" Edmunds said, saying he was improperly questioning the witness.

9:33--Richer than rich: Rataj suggests that Soave Enterprises is worth $2.5 billion.  Soave says he's not sure where that figure comes from, and isn't sure.  Rataj says the figure came from Forbes Magazine. 

His point here seems to be that Soave is so rich, providing the mayor with 20 round-trips jet is a drop in the bucket, and Soave is hardly a victim. 

9:30--Sewer repair: Now Rataj seems to be focusing on Inland Waters, a company that was in Soave's many portfolios.  That's the company that won a $50 million sewer contract early on in the Kwame Kilpatrick administration, but allegedly had it held up  because Soave didn't hire the mayor's friend Bobby Ferguson. 

9:25--More businesses: Now Rataj's asking Soave about some of his other current and past businesses: car dealerships (Maserati, Cadillac, other high-end dealers), beverage companies, Checker Cab, metal, oil, waste management, industrial real estate, greenhouses ("They grow big tomatoes...and small tomatoes," Soave said), and more and more and more. 

If Rataj is going to spend the day going through all the companies Soave owns, we may be here until past 1PM. 

9:22--Luxury properties: Rataj is asking Soave about some commercial real-estate holdings he has throughout the country:  there are too many to list.  Just know he has more than a few.  Tony's done quite well. 

9:17--Enter the bull: Now Bullotta's finished with his direct-examination of Soave.  One of Bobby Ferguson's lawyers, Mike Rataj, is first up to question Mr. Soave.  While some of his colleagues are more understated when questioning government witnesses, Rataj is more of a bull in a china shop.  Right now, he's just asking Soave about his business. Expect that to change soon.

9:14--Govt. still up: We thought the Assistant U.S. Attorney was finished questioning Soave, but it appears they still have a few questions.

Asst. U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta is asking Soave about an issue he touched-on yesterday: that he was told Ferguson wanted 50% of his next contract with the city.  Soave declined (yesterday his response was that Ferguson could "F himself). 

He also asked whether Soave ever provided Mayor Dennis Archer with free flights, hotels, gifts, etc.  Soave says he has not.

9:10--Here we go: Lawyers have emerged from Judge Nancy Edmunds' chambers, and Soave is being shown to the witness box.  We should begin shortly. 

8:30--Day 36: Welcome back, folks.  When we get started at 9AM, business titan Tony Soave will return to the witness stand for his second (and possibly final) day of testimony. 

8:25--Yesterday: In his first day of testimony, Soave alleged that a major $50 million city sewer contract he was supposed to receive was held up for several months.  When he asked Mayor Kilpatrick why, he said he responded: "You hired the wrong subcontractor."

Soave says he was told to hire his friend, Bobby Ferguson, and he did.  It didn't end there, though. Soave says Kilpatrick made requests for use of his private jets--to the tune of almost $400,000--and to foot the tab for free stays in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Naples, a $6,000 Cartier watch, a New York City shopping spree and more.

You'll recall that 7 Action News exposed those jet trips years ago, as well as the stay in the posh Rits-Carlton.

Soave said he gave in each and every time because he didn't want to upset the Mayor, especially after he felt he'd already put the brakes on a major city contract of his.  But did the Mayor put a proverbial gun to Soave's head, and tell him he had to give into his demands, or else?  It doesn't sound like it.

It's up to a jury to decide if it all amounts to extortion.  In the mean time, sit back and prepare for an interest cross-examination. Defense lawyers will likely paint Soave as a dirty businessman himself who was all-too-eager to lavish the Mayor with gifts he wanted, or in some cases didn't even ask for.

Have a question or comment for Ross?  E-mail him at rjones@wxyz.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter @RossJones7 or like him on Facebook.

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