DETROIT (WXYZ) - Former City of Detroit Water Department Head Victor Mercado pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion in the Kwame Kilpatrick corruption.
The plea marks the highest-level conviction secured by the government in its years-long probe into public corruption. The feds recommended that Mercado serve no more than 18-months in prison.
Today in open court, Mercado admitted to pressuring an employee of Walbridge, a major Detroit-based construction company, into hiring the mayor's friend Bobby Ferguson as part of a city contract.
"You were attempting to influence the process by which a (water department) contract would be awarded?" asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow.
"Yes," Mercado responded.
The plea comes during what was supposed to be a restful week for lawyers and defendants, as the court waits for Bobby Ferguson's lead attorney Gerald Evelyn to recover from a medical issue.
But for Kilpatrick and his co-defendants, the week is now anything but restful, as they wonder about what information, if any, Mercado could give the feds to strengthen their case against Kilpatrick and others. Mercado's plea came with no cooperation clause, but he still may testify in the case.
Mercado is the second defendant of the alleged "Kilpatrick Enterprise" to plead guilty. Kilpatrick's long-time friend and high school classmate Derrick Miller plead guilty to tax evasion and public corruption and is expected to testify for the government.
Mercado was always viewed as the wild card of the trial: he tried to have himself severed from the case months ago and be tried separately, his lawyers said Mercado would do more to help the government than Kilpatrick, and he was never seen to even exchange pleasantries with his co-defendants.
Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick and former city contractor Bobby Ferguson are all on trial, accused of running a criminal enterprise out of city hall.