Witness claiming extortion gets hammered by defense

DETROIT (WXYZ) - A city contractor who says Bobby Ferguson extorted him had a hard time remembering key details about his company and business dealings in the city Wednesday in Kilpatrick Corruption Trial.

Thomas Hardiman Sr. had a hard time remembering some important things, like whether he'd been sued, or how much money he made when he cashed out his ownership shares in a company.

He does seem to remember that when he didn't put Bobby Ferguson on two water dept deals, that he then lost those contracts – the question now is: will the jury believe someone who's been so evasive on the witness stand?

Several of the jurors seemed frustrated with Hardiman's testimony. At times they were shaking their heads, and raising their eyebrows, likely because he had a hard time answering a lot of the questions.

"You couldn't answer many of the questions about your own company? What does your company do," 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo asked Hardiman outside federal court Wednesday. Hardiman did not answer.

Hardiman's name is tied to some big businesses in Detroit: Lakeshore Engineering Services, A & H Contractors, and others.

But on the witness stand in the Kilpatrick corruption trial, Hardiman couldn't answer seemingly basic questions about how much money he made or why he signed letters on behalf of a company he no longer owned. He wasn't interested in answering our questions either.

"You seemed to answer I don't recall to everything, can you explain why," asked Catallo.

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, and former city contractor Bobby Ferguson are all on trial, accused of extorting contractors by making them put Ferguson on their water department deals so the Kilpatrick Enterprise could cash in.

Hardiman has said that after he refused to give Ferguson 25 percent of two contracts, the deals got cancelled, and Hardiman and business partner Avinash Rachmale of Lakeshore Engineering Services learned their lesson. Hardiman told the jury last month that Ferguson extorted him out of more than $3 Million – but after Ferguson lead attorney Gerald Evelyn finished grilling Hardiman, it was clear Hardiman and Rachmale also made a lot of money, often with Ferguson on their teams. From just the water department alone, during a 7 year span, they raked in more than $158 million dollars.

Hardiman was part owner of Lakeshore, and later started A&H contractors, which worked as a subcontractor for Lakeshore on city jobs.

Federal prosecutors say there was a "climate of fear" in Detroit, an unspoken understanding among contractors that if you didn't include Ferguson in your project – you weren't going to get city work. That's something Ferguson's lawyers deny.

"He started a company that is doing business with a company he used to be associated with. So that's double dipping. So where's the climate of fear? I mean, you just heard him on the stand – he wasn't afraid of Bobby Ferguson at all," said Ferguson defense attorney Mike Rataj outside the courthouse.

Evelyn also showed the jury a letter sent from Lakeshore, thanking Ferguson enterprises, and "looking forward to" their "continued accomplishments" together. What's more – the letter was written in 2009 – after Kilpatrick had left office. Evelyn portrayed Hardiman as someone who repeatedly used Ferguson's skills and credentials to get jobs – not as someone who was afraid of Ferguson.

"You heard that he wasn't afraid of him, so this climate of fear thing, he's got his own company -- he used to be part of one company, then he starts another company, and they're doing business with [the first] company. I mean, it's a little incestuous, don't you think," said Rataj.

After Evelyn finished his two-day cross examination of Hardiman, Assistant U. S. Attorney Mark Chutkow circled back with Hardiman, asking him if he'd ever told the author of that letter praising Ferguson Enterprises about Ferguson's threats to shut down Hardiman's jobs if he didn't give Ferguson work. He said he did not tell anyone about the threats – except his business partner, who's due to take to the stand next.

Hardiman had also told the jury that one time he felt pressured to deliver $25,000 in cash to Bobby Ferguson. Ferguson's lawyers have argued that was payment on an outstanding bill. On Wednesday, Hardiman admitted that Ferguson was "startled" and "surprised" that Hardiman had rushed over with cash.

Hardiman's testimony will continue on Thursday.

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