Government comes out swinging in corruption case opening statements, defense fires back

DETROIT (WXYZ) - The government came out swinging today  with an elaborate PowerPoint presentation, text messages, and a shocking video of Bernard Kilpatrick that was secretly recorded. In the video, Bernard is talking about why he didn't want anyone to see him taking cash in a crowded restaurant.

But the defense fired back with largely a common theme: the government is taking things out of context.

Money, money and more money taken by Kwame Kilpatrick and his co-defendants. That was the point federal prosecutors drove home to the jury during opening statements Friday – and they used the defendants own words against them.

Assistant U. S. Attorney Mark Chutkow laid out elaborate details of how much cash the former mayor took into his bank account and to pay credit card bills, more than $541,000.

Chutkow said Kilpatrick dropped $61,000 just on custom suits.

Using a PowerPoint presentation, Chutkow told the jury it was Kilpatrick's pal, Bobby Ferguson who bank-rolled the mayor's lifestyle, because Kilpatrick was steering city water department business his way.

The government told the jurors that Kilpatrick, Ferguson, and former water department director Victor Mercado held Tony Soave's company's contract hostage until Soave agreed to bring Ferguson into his deal with the city. The prosecution told the jury that Mercado was in on the conspiracy, even going so far as to sweep his office for listening devices.

The feds also played wiretaps of Bernard Kilpatrick talking about killing city deals and showed a video of him talking to former Synagro Executive James Rosendall.  Chutkow explained that Rosendall had tried to give Bernard Kilpatrick $2500 in cash during a meeting in a restaurant, but the former mayor's father wouldn't take it. The video showed them outside afterwards, with Bernard Kilpatrick saying "I don't want anybody to see me take cash… Most people will not go under the bus for you."

"What was it like seeing that video," 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo asked Bernard Kilpatrick.

His attorney John Shea wouldn't let him answer, saying "Let's go guys, come on, we've got to get back to court."

"Seeing BK on video talking about money, that someone tried to hand him in a restaurant -- how stunning is that for the jury," Catallo asked Channel 7 Legal Analyst Thomas O'Brien. 

"That's a powerful moment – maybe the most powerful in the whole presentation that they did," said O'Brien.

O'Brien says the government succeeded in giving a lot of details of their case without confusing the jury.

 "Not too long, powerful, not a lot of legalese, and I think they had the jury watching and listening very closely," said O'Brien.

Kwame Kilpatrick's lawyer, Jim Thomas, disagreed.

"I was not impressed, as you heard in my opening statement," said Thomas.

In court, Thomas' said, "That's as good as it's going to get," about Chutkow's opening statement.  And the counter-attack was clear – the government is taking text messages and phone calls out of context.

Thomas also told the jury that the FBI "targeted Mr. Kilpatrick early on, and tried to find a reason or a way to get him charged." Thomas is clearly going to attack the way the feds did their investigation into Kilpatrick  and described cooperating witness Derrick Miller as a greedy underling in the administration.

Bernard Kilpatrick's attorney told the court the government is relying on dirty witnesses, who have been bought and paid for, and that his client earned the money he was paid.  Shea says the video was shown out of context.

Mercado's lawyer talked for more than hour, denying that his client was part of any conspiracy– describing one time when Mercado freaked out while attending a business meeting on Soave's yacht, because he didn't want to appear to be taking a gratuity.

The defense ended strong with Ferguson attorney Gerald Evelyn, who called the claims that Ferguson's business started with Kwame Kilpatrick "absolute poppycock." Evelyn said Ferguson's biggest city deals all came from the Dennis Archer administration – and described a man who at 17 had to take over his father's business and battle bigger non-minority construction company's for work.

"That was one of the best things he did do, is to talk about his struggles and what it was like to be a minority contract to take over his dad's business, when he was a young man.  And of course, he had friends, that's what happens, there's nothing wrong with having friends in high places," said O'Brien.

The first witnesses take the stand on Monday morning.

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