Kilpatrick Civic Fund called into question at corruption trial

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Tuesday's witnesses in the Kilpatrick corruption trial had plenty to say about how they were paid during Kwame Kilpatrick's run for mayor.

The government was playing "follow the money" again – showing the jury checks written from the Kilpatrick Civic Fund account to what federal prosecutors say are illegal political expenses.

The Kilpatrick Civic Fund was supposed to help kids and seniors. Instead, the feds allege Kilpatrick used the non-profit as his personal piggy bank.

The former Detroit mayor, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, former city contractor Bobby Ferguson, and ex-Water department director Victor Mercado are all on trial, accused of racketeering and conspiracy.

First on the stand Tuesday, Kilpatrick's one-time public relations expert Bob Berg.

"It was what it was," said Berg after his testimony.

Berg told the jury that Kilpatrick's mother, former Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick, asked him to help with her son's campaign for mayor.

Assistant U. S. Attorney Michael Bullotta showed the jury two different checks from 2001 made out to Berg's PR company – both for $5,000. The checks were written from the Kilpatrick Civic Fund account, which isn't supposed to be used for a political candidate's campaign.

When Bullotta asked Berg, "Did you ever do any work for the Kilpatrick Civic Fund," Berg said "No."

During cross-examination, Kilpatrick's attorney Jim Thomas reminded Berg about a newspaper story from 2001 about questions that were raised about donations to the Civic Fund from homeless shelter owner Jon Rutherford. When Thomas asked Berg if he had advised Kilpatrick about how to handle that civic fund issue with the media – Berg said yes. But Berg ultimately insisted he was working for the campaign.

Next on the stand: Tracy Walker. Federal prosecutors showed the jury that her former PR firm was also paid almost $15,000 from the Civic Fund account. Walker told the jury that her goal at the time was to "make sure [Kilpatrick] got elected."

But Thomas showed the jury Walker's contract which clearly showed she was hired to raise Kilpatrick's profile for the Civic Fund and the state House Democratic Caucus.

"How can it be in the worst possible light when you have a woman coming in saying she contracted with the civic fund, and a check was paid to her from the civic fund. I don't understand. It is an entirely misspent focus on what ordinarily would be an audit," said Thomas after court about the Civic Fund testimony.

The feds also brought in the CFO of a Washington D.C.-based research company that Kilpatrick used during his 2005 mayoral campaign. The CFO testified that she was asked to change the name on an invoice to bill the Kilpatrick Civic Fund instead of the political campaign for more than $26,000.

Also Tuesday, a federal agent testified about how they created a database for hundreds of thousands of text messages sent by all four defendants.

Assistant U. S. Attorney Mark Chutkow used this exchange as an example of a conversation they pieced together between Bernard Kilpatrick and Kwame Kilpatrick on 8/3/04:
From Bernard:
"Cool! We need to have one of our meetings.. you, me, zeke, and bobby.."
Zeke is a nickname for former Kilpatrick aide Derrick Miller.

The former mayor replied to Bernard:
"COOL!"
Later that day, Bernard Kilpatrick texted Kwame Kilpatrick: quote,
"We.. need that meeting I was talking about.. me, you, and zeke.. my crib late.

The federal agent testified that Bernard Kilpatrick often used the signature line for his texts: "Don't sweat the small stuff.. It's all small stuff."
Kwame's response to that Bernard was:
"Cool"

Don't expect the defense to consider these text exchanges "cool." Thomas tried to press the agent on the idea that you can't really tell the tone of what someone is saying in a text. We know from past statements that the defense is going to challenge a lot of these text messages, but there are so many of them about to be introduced – about 200 texts will play a key role in this case.
 

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