Jurors in the Kwame Kilpatrick federal corruption trial heard a witness testify Friday that he paid almost $5,000 for the former Detroit mayor's suits, donated $10,000 to the Kilpatrick Civic Fund and collected more than $32,000 in contributions towards Kilpatrick's re-election campaign in order to secure contracts with the city.
Johnson Akinwusi's testimony marked the beginning of the Heilmann Recreational Center chapter in the trial. Akinwusi, owner of contracting company JOA Construction, told the court that he had several contracts with the Detroit Building Authority (DBA) under the administration of former mayor Dennis Archer. That city business dried up, however, after Akinwusi supported 2001 mayoral candidate Gil Hill with a campaign contribution.
The witness testified that he addressed his work concerns with a friend he shared in common with Kilpatrick: tailor Larry Alebiosu of Fashion International in southfield. Alebiosu will appear as the next witness in the trial on Monday. Akinwusi said that Alebiosu told him to do two things. Firstly, to write a letter to the mayor asking to continue to do work with the city. Then, Alebiosu told the witness, it would be a good idea to pay for some suits that the mayor had on layaway at his store. Akinwusi did both.
U.S. Attorney Jennifer Blackwell produced a receipt from March 11th for suits that the witness purchased at Fashion International as well as a check written that same day for $7,933.38. The difference of around$4,800 between the two amounts went towards Kilpatrick's layaway suits testified Akinwusi. And he said he paid for the suits because he wanted to secure work with the city of Detroit.
The witness also told the court that at a 2002 ribbon cutting ceremony at the Erma Henderson Marina, he was approached by former Kilpatrick Chief of Staff Christine Beatty to make a donation to the Kilpatrick Civic Fund (KCF). On May 28th 2002, Akinwusi wrote a check for $10,000 for the KCF.
"That was the amount I was asked by Christine Beatty to provide," said the witness.
Shortly after, the witness got a bid proposal request from the city for the Heilmann Recreation Center on the east side. The contract was worth $7 million. Akinwusi testified that he teamed with Xcel Construction's Bobby Ferguson and Michael Woodhouse to submit the proposal.
"I knew Bobby and Woodhouse were close to the mayor and I had a better chance with them," explained Akinwusi.
The joint venture team of JOA construction and Xcel got the Heilmann project. They agreed that Xcel would get a 36% cut on the deal despite having no employees on the work site. Xcel was paid $161,185 for the project. Ferguson Enterprises was also paid for doing demolition work on the contract.
Blackwell asked witness if he felt Xcel deserved the money.
"No I don't think so," said the witness.
Why did you pay them then asked Blackwell.
"We had a contract. I didn't want to get sued so I paid the contract," said the witness. He went on to add, "I didn't want to create waves on the job. If I didn't pay Bobby, the job wouldn't go."
In a bid to secure more work, Akinwusi told the court that in 2005 he collected $32,000 in campaign contributions for Kilpatrick's re-election bid from sub-contractors and had it passed on in envelopes to Ferguson.
Little good it did him. The witness testified that he never got any more city contracts after the Heilmann job was completed.
Gerald Evelyn, defense lawyer for Bobby Ferguson, produced a seemingly endless series of minutes from progress meetings on the Heilmann project. Evelyn used the minutes to demonstrate that Xcel was in fact assigned tasks on the project and that the witness participated in few if any of the meetings. Evelyn also accused the witness of not managing his sub-contractors properly thus holding up the project and forcing Woodhouse to take on a more active role.
Evelyn asked Akinwusi if he met with Woodhouse, an old friend, earlier this year and asked him for $5,000. The witness said he didn't remember asking for the money but he did know he didn't get it.
Kilpatrick's lawyer Jim Thomas was last to take a stab at cross-examination. Under Thomas's cross, Akinwusi agreed that he was scared when the FBI first came to his offices in September 2002 and that he told them multiple times that he did not buy Kilpatrick's suits or give the city any money when asked by the federal agents.
The witness also admitted that he had had a certain amount of personal exposure to Kilpatrick including at a few ribbon cutting ceremonies, during his renovation of the Manoogian Mansion in 2002 and 2003 and through invitations for meetings with the mayor that he never attended. And of course, there was the witness's 2001 Christmas party which an univited Kilpatrick attended as the guest of infamous tailor Larry Alebiosu.
Thus said Thomas, there was no need for Alebiosu to liaise with the mayor as there was ample ease of communication. Not true replied the witness.
Thomas produced two more Fashion International receipts for the witness showing that he bought several thousands of dollars worth of suits on layaway for himself in 2002.
Thomas also pointed to certain inconsistencies in Akinwusi's testimony.
"Are you capable of making mistakes as relates to times and places," asked Thomas. Earlier, Evelyn had also challenged the witness's memory. Akinwusi suffered a stroke in 2007 that forced him to shut down his business.
The witness replied that everyone makes mistakes.
Court resumes Monday at 9AM.
About the author
Alexandra Harland is a Princeton undergrad and has a masters degree in International affairs with Columbia. A Montreal native, she worked with the Daily Telegraph newspaper for a few years before transitioning to TV, when she worked at ABC News with Peter Jennings. Alexandra has also worked in newsrooms in both Detroit and Boston.