8:55AM Monday morning at the U.S. District courthouse and the Kwame Kilpatrick federal corruption trial is set to get going again. It seems everyone was affected by the unspeakable tragedy at Newtown, CT last Friday, and that includes Kwame.
The former Detroit mayor who was in Texas over the weekend visiting his family tweeted the following on Friday:
We are getting set to continue with the testimony of contractor Johnson Akinwusi who testified Friday that he paid for Kwame's layaway suits.
Just got video of the courtroom and the lawyers must be in a meeting in Judge Nancy Edmunds's chambers because Kwame, Bernard Kilpatrick and Bobby Ferguson are seated by themselves at the table.
9:07AM Here come the lawyers. Just waiting for the witness to take the stand and the jury to be seated.
Judge Edmunds mentions that tomorrow and Thursday we are stopping a little early at 12:30PM. Mike Rataj just asked if we will have court on Friday and the judge replied yes. That's news to me because on the calendar Friday is a day off.
9:12AM Jennifer Blackwell for government redirects Akinwusi.
The witness says he approached Larry Alebiosu because he was having difficulty getting city contracts. Also says it was the tailors idea to pay for the mayor's suits which he did.
Looking at split screen of receipt and check: March 11th 2002 was the date for both his suit receipt and the check of more than $7,000. Akinwusi says the difference of about $4,800 between his suit receipt and the check went towards the mayor's suits.
The witness says that after he paid for the mayor's suits that he got the Heilmann contract with the city.
Looking at the progress minute meetings that Gerald Evelyn, Ferguson's lawyer, introduced last week. Witness says that the only contribution of Michael Woodhouse and Xcel Construction to the Heilmann project was to attend the progress meetings and take the minutes.
Evelyn Objects. Judge overrules.
Looking at series of payments between 2003 and 2006 from JOA to Xcel. Witness says he had a deal with Xcel to pay them on the contract. JOA had 64% of the project and thus should have controlled payment activity and the risk bond.
Witness reiterating that having Ferguson Enterprises do demolition for the project was a conflict of interest as it was another Ferguson business. Witness typically says he would have bid out the demolition work but did not in this instance.
Blackwell done with redirect. Jim Thomas, Kwame's lawyer asks for sidebar.
9:25AM Evelyn gets up to do more cross.
Reminds witness about the 31 documents he showed him last week. And that Bobby Toliver's name was on all the documents. Evelyn is telling Akinwusi that he was not present at the meetings or work sites so doesn't know what was going on.
Evelyn and Akinwusi are talking on top of each other. Judge intervenes and tells them to wait for the other to finish before speaking.
Evelyn asking wahta projects he had submitted bids on before Heilmann that he did not get. Witness says he didn't submit any. Also did Manoogian Mansion restoration after Kilpatrick was elected.
9:26AM Thomas does more cross.
Thomas says you did Manoogian restoration and the Heilmann project. Witness says he paid for the suits on layaway.
9:27AM Akinwusi dismissed and now we get a new witness, the infamous Southfield tailor Larre Alebiosu of Fashion International.
"Everybody calls me Larre," says the witness.
Sells clothes and makes custom-made men's clothing: shirts, ties, suits, jackets. Has 2 or 3,000 clients. Has been in business since 1990. Has clients from all walks of life: athletes, businessmen.
Can make suits in 48 hours, a week or a month, depending on the needs of customers. Suits range from $500 to $4,000.
Knows Kwame since 2000. One of Alebiosu's customers brought him to the store. First suit he made for the mayor was the one for his inauguration. He became a regular customer.
"It was difficult for the mayor to buy off the rack because of his size," says Alebiosu.
Mayor bought shirts, ties, shoes, belts and not just suits.
Alebiosu has customers from city council. Mayor usually paid with cash, credit cards and checks.
"Most of the transactions I had with mayor were on layaway," says the witness.
The mayor would make payments on his layaways.
Witness says the mayor was always commenting about paying for his suits. He never paid all at once, split payment between credit cards, cash and checks.
Alebiosu kept records of what was bought and how it was paid for. Looking at Alebiosu's payment history report from March 2000 through May 2008 for Kwame Kilpatrick. Represents mayor's purchases from Fashion International from that time. No cumulative total.
Blackwell asks if it's more than $50,000. Witness says he does not know.
Looking at December 21st 2001, series of purchases by mayor on that date, totaling $1,669. Kilpatrick paid in cash.
December 23rd 2002 payments: $1,998 paid by Kilpatrick.
July 21st 2004: $2,000 paid in cash by Kilpatrick.
Witness says he never asked why he paid in cash or where the money came from.
Witness says the transaction summary report accurately reflects payments in cash or checks.
Witness says he is friends with Johnson Akinwusi. Both men are from Nigeria and know each other since the late 80s. the Detroit Nigerian community is quite small. The tailor introduced Akinwusi to the mayor. In December 2001, Akinwusi was having a party and called the tailor asking him to invite the mayor. Alebiosu invited the mayor and they went together.
The tailor and Akinwusi played golf together every sunday. Akinwusi mentioned that he wanted to do more business with the city. Alebiosu said there wasn't much he could do. Asked him to talk to the mayor on his behalf. Witness doesn't remember the advice he gave him. They had a lot of discussions about his business but doesn't recall specific advice.
9:45AM Witness says he spent a lot of time with Akinwusi. They played golf, had dinner together. Alebiosu says he can't remember categorically where the conversations took place.
Witness thinks that when the mayor went to Akinwusi's party he had been elected but not sworn in yet.
When Akinwusi and the witness spoke, Kilpatrick was mayor and had suits on layaway in his store. Witness says that Akinwusi wanted to pay for suits for the mayor and the witness says he told him that he had some suits on layaway in his store.
Looking at receipt again from March 11th 2002 for Akinwusi's suit. Looking at receipts for part of the mayor's layaway on March 11th 2002. 2 receipts: 1 for $4,487 and the other for $303.14. Witness says he believes that theses are the receipts that Akinwusi paid. Total amount is $4,790.46 paid on Kilpatrick's layaway account.
Jurors ask to see amounts for layaway suits again.
Witness says he called Kilpatrick a few days later to tell him the suits had been paid for by Akinwusi.
9:52AM Thomas cross-examines.
Alebiosu says that he was friends with Kilpatrick and they went to each other's homes. Discussed witness's daughter going to Cornell.
Witness says he was proud the mayor of Detroit was wearing his suits and tried to cultivate that relationships. He acknowledges he gave things of value to the mayor. Kilpatrick told people about his business and that he wore his suit to his mayoral inauguration.
Thomas says professional football players go to Fashion International. Witness says that is their specialty, making suits for people who are difficult to fit.
Witness says they keep payment records for a couple of reasons: when they first started, people came to get receipts for insurance reasons so business started to keep tab.
Transactions date back to March 2000 for Kilpatrick.
Talking about Akinwusi's Christmas party in December 2001. Witness thinks it was before Kilpatrick officially took office.
Thomas says as far as you know is cash legal tender here in the US? I believe so says the witness.
Thomas asks if he ever saw Kilpatrick with large amounts of cash. Witness says he never did.
Witness says most of the things he bought from him were on layaway.
Witness says the FBI requested the customer summary report in 2010. Alebiosu says that sometimes there might have been a mistake by his employees it was paid in cash or credit card. Looking at the summary report for Kilpatrick, it looks like Larre the tailor never gave him any discounts.
"The way I worked with mayor was different than I worked with other customers. I pretty much worked with him however he wanted," says Alebiosu.
"I wanted to have my garments on the mayor," says the witness about why he was so accommodating.
Alebiosu says the payment by Akinwusi on the suits was more than a decade ago so he can't remember if the suits were still in the store or if the mayor had taken them.
Witness reiterating that the records he kept on the mayor were not like he did with other customers.
Looking at March 18th 2000 payment of $556.50 for suits. Thomas tabulates the math and comes up with $553.50. Asks why there is a $3 difference. Alebiosu can't account for it.
June 22nd 2001, mayor is paying in cash before he was elected mayor. Looking at layaway payments in cash.
Thomas says there is nothing unusual or inappropriate about paying in cash. No says the witness.
Looking at a succession of layaway payments by the former mayor. Looking at March 11th 2002, date of Akinwusi's check to pay for Kilpatrick's layaway, Kilpatrick's layaway doesn't seem to be itemized.
10:10AM May 7th 2002, payment of $3,000 by check by Kilpatrick on layaway.
On September 10th and 12th 2002, $1,200 on the 10th and $1,000 on the 12th by check. So including the date of May 7th, that's $5,200 total paid by mayor by check.
Witness says he told Akinwusi that he had told mayor he paid for the suits. Witness says he never remembers Akinwusi telling him he thought he pocketed the money.
10:17AM Blackwell redirects.
Alebiosu says he still has outstanding balance for the mayor in the store. Saying he didn't give Kilpatrick things for free.
Kwame and Bernard snort derisively.
Witness steps down from the stand.
10:18AM New witness is sworn in. Eric Doeh for the government questions. LaJuan Wilks is her name, she is construction project coordinator for the general city services department of the city of Detroit. Has a degree in building construction management from Michigan State.
At one point, from 2002 until 2010, worked for the Detroit recreational department as a construction project manager. Main job was to oversee major system replacements, new constructions. At the recreation department, her boss was Vincent Anwunah.
Was part of evaluation committee that evaluated bid proposals for the Heilmann project which started off as a renovation project which turned into new construction. The recreational center was to be used by the residents of the city of Detroit.
Wilks says Vincent Anwunah, Tyrone Clifton and Robert Hill were also on the evaluation committee with her. Anwunah was general manager of landscape design for the city recreational department. Clifton was with the Detroit Building Authority (DBA). Ayanna Benson was the head of the DBA.
Doeh asking if Ayanna Benson had a relationship to the mayor. Witness says she knows that she was connection to the mayor. Benson is the mayor's cousin though Doeh couldn't get the witness to say this.
Wilks says they got 7 or 8 bid proposals for the Heilmann Center project. 5 were selected for the interview process. Wilks says her objective was to make the best selection for the center and the city of Detroit. The contract was for $7 million.
Witness taking about contractor Spencer Dailey that had completed another recreational center previously with the city. They had been highly evaluated on that job. Despite several problems with the project, Spencer Dailey still kept costs in line and delivered on the project. Spencer Dailey also submitted bid for the Heilmann project.
10:30AM Judge says this would be a good time to take a 20 minute break.
10:50AM Everybody getting back to the courtroom. On time. Forgot to mention earlier, Ferguson's lawyer Susan Van Dusen is still absent from court. No word yet when she will be back.
Eric Doeh getting ready to continue with LaJuan Wilks. Really liking the prosecutor's dark suit, blue shirt and cherry red tie combo. It pops amid a sea of beige and grey suits.
The judge telling jury that a defense exhibit has been received.
Witness looking at review sheets for bid proposals for the Heilmann project including those for Skanska, JOA and Spencer Dailey.
Looking at JOA's Request for Proposal document. the joint venture team was JOA and Xcel. Xcel was represented by Woodhouse and Calvin Hall.
The witness had made comments in pen on the RFP: "State processes but didn't go into detail of what processes would be. Not clearly laid out." Wilks had not rated JOA as highly as the others. Spencer Dailey was rated more highly.
Out of the 5 presenters, Wilks was leaning towards Spencer Dailey. Witness says the package they submitted was complete and had a designer on their team who had experience with rec centers as well as previous project. witness says JOA had done work for them before but not such a large scale project.
Spencer Dailey was a Detroit-based business. Wilks not sure if they are minority owned.
Talking about Tyrone Clifton of DBA who was part of the evaluation committee as well.
Wilks says that JOA/Xcel seemed unprepared in their presentation. Each team had a certain amount of presentation- they spent some of their time just sitting while all the other groups used up every bit of their time.
Doeh asking how Woodhouse of Xcel compared to others. Wilks says she didn't look at them as individuals but as a group.
Wilks says that the JOA/Xcel demeanor was "kind of casual". They seemed rather relaxed for the size of project. This team came in looking for questions not really a presentation. Wilks didn't feel they had a clear presentation- "it was lacking, minimal." They came in and introduced their team and said what their responsibilities were.
After the presentations, the committee rated the 5 companies based on reviews from package and points from interviews. JOA/Xcel ranked 4th and yet somehow still got the job. Spencer Dailey was 79 and JOA was 42, second to last. Skanska was 85 points ranked at #1 position.
Wilks says the ranking reflects her thinking on who the best teams were.
Witness says JOA/Xcell got Heilmann contract and she was surprised. At the end of the committee review, they were between Skanska and Spencer Dailey and the evaluation group ultimately decided to go with Skanska. JO/Xcel were not in the running, not one of the teams discussed.
Kwame leaning in closely to whisper in Thomas's ear as his lawyer takes notes.
After JOA got contract, Wilks job was to be liason between contract and DBA to make sure job received is what rec department needs. The expectations placed on her were to be on the site much more than on typical city contracts. She went out on site at least 4 or 5 days a week on a 5 day a week operation.
11:15AM Doeh asks how often witness saw Woodhouse and Hall on the site.
Evelyn objects. Judge sustains.
Wilks observed typical work for a job that started as renovation and ended up as new construction. Checked for who from site management is there and is there to answer questions about project concerns. Wilks says the biggest problem was the amount of time the project took. The longer it took, the longer it was before they could turn the facility over to the residents.
The city had just completed another project that took about a year and the Heilmann project took well over that. More than 3 years- 2003-2006. Wilks says the Heilmann project was poorly manned, where they should have had 20 men they might have 5. It really became an issue in the fall/winter of 2005. At that time, the building was not enclosed and they were still discussing closing the building up.
Wilks says JOA/Xcel team principal managers. Saw Richard Duroy, Kevin O'Berry. Saw Xcel employees when there was earthwork. Saw Woodhouse and Hall on occasion.
Wilks saw JOA employees on site. Witness told Tyrone Clifton that "they were not working."
Wilks gives the design of Heilmann a "C". Heating system was an issue, the parking lot layout was an issue for theft, the main atrium not really a programmable space. Before the project was completed, they had to install heaters into the ducts in the locker rooms.
Wilks says she had gone out to Spencer Dailey's site when they had done previous rec center. Would go out once or twice a week as opposed to Heilmann where it was almost daily.
Wilks talking about the atrium design being the biggest space in the building- believes the intent was to use it as a programmable space but it couldn't be as people had to constantly walk through it to get to other areas.
Wilks says they held site meetings weekly. She says that sometimes problems were resolved but the problems were revisited often from spring 2004 through winter 2005. She would keep bringing up same concerns.
Patton Park project was ongoing at the same time. Wilks would go there twice a week to check out the site.
Wilks says that early in the Patton project Ferguson was at a water board meeting. Wilks says there was discussion at that meeting about general conditions at the time including Heilmann. There was discussion about general managers being at Patton. Wilks was concerned that Woodhouse and Hall be at 2 places at the same time: Heilmann and Patton. Worried that they would be double billed when it was physically impossible for the 2 men to be at the 2 projects at the same time.
11:30AM Soon after Wilks met with her boss Anwunah and Ferguson to discuss what had happened. It was in Anwunah's office in Cadillac Square. Meeting called to discuss what she had said at the water board. Ferguson stated that she was questionanning whether his people were capable of running the project. she tried to make clear she was taking about people being at 2 places at the same time.
"At some point we both began to holler," says the witness about herself and Ferguson.
Ferguson told her "The only reason you still have this job is because you're black."
Wilks looked at her boss Anwunah and said "This is how we let contractors come in and talk to us now?"
Wilks says she felt her job was threatened. She felt Ferguson had a connection to the mayor. at the time, because of the way her boss behaved that he was incapable of protecting her because of how he behaved by hanging back. Wilks felt that Ferguson had a connection to the mayor that was beyond her boss's control.
She says her boss didn't react in any sort of way and was trying to keep his distance from what was going on with her and Ferguson.
Wilks says she left the office for the day and called Tyrone Clifton at the DBA. She wanted to call someone who would go to bat for her. Called Clifton maybe 15 minutes after she left work. Wilks says she was upset- she didn't know what was going to happen next.
11:39AM Evelyn for Ferguson cross-examines.
Evelyn going back to water board meeting for Patton Park. It wasn't too far into the project- portions of demolition had started. It was a DWSD renovation project.
Wilks says she has civil services protection. Wilks says the water board meeting is an open meeting. Witness says she brought up Woodhouse and Hall being with Heilmann because there was a link to it. Witness says she doesn't remember what the water board response to her comments about double billing was.
Evelyn says when issues are brought before the water board, they are staffed out and investigated. Witness says she can't say for sure.
Wilks says she doesn't remember a water board member calling her about her comments.
Director of the recreation department at the time was a Mr. Beckham, possibly.
Evelyn says but don't meeting with contractors get heated. Wilks says no.
Wilks admits that one other time she told a contractor she'd go to the mayor about problems with them.
Wilks says that she can't remember how soon after Ferguson's comment about her job she left. Says it wasn't a very long meeting. wilks admits she never turned to her boss to ask if her job was in jeopardy.
Wilks says that "on paper, no" she didn't lose her job. Curious what that means.
Wilks says previous to this didn't really have issues with Woodhouse and Hall.
Evelyn tells witness she had problems with Woodhouse about Patton Park change orders where she said she wasn't approving it because she didn't want to pay for any more of Ferguson's watches. Witness says she didn't say that.
Evelyn asks if witness dislikes Ferguson. She says she doesn't know him.
He presses her again is she dislikes Ferguson. Judge says she has answered his question.
Kwame and Ferguson looking at each other and laughing.
Wilks says 5 rec centers were renovated during her tenure with city recreational department.
Evelyn asks if a design problem was the reason that Farwell rec center become a senior center. Witness says it was not a design flaw but a budget decision.
11:55AM Going back to the rankings of the proposals on Heilmann. Evelyn asking about a mandatory pre-bid meeting before the interviews. Witness says she thinks it might have happened. Evelyn handing witness a document to refresh her memory.
The date of the pre-bid meeting was April 29th 2003. Witness says she was there and there was a significant number of contractors and architects. Evelyn asking if there were 34 representatives of contractors and architects. Witness says she doesn't know. Were there 34 different companies, she doesn't think so. Were there 34 different individuals, possibly. She says it was a packed meeting.
Ultimately, the number of contractors got whittled down to 5 for the Heilmann project interviews. Lists DBA employees Robert Hill, Tyrone Clifton and Benny Goldston and Vincent Anwunah and witness from the recreational department.
Evelyn saying that the witness's arithmetic average on the interviews was the lowest. Yes says the witness.
Evelyn saying Skanska is a Swedish company and that the 2 lowest ranking companies were the only all minority owned businesses. Witness says she can't answer that.
12:06PM Evelyn asks for 5 minute break. Says he has quite a bit more to go. Judge agrees so break it is.
12:15PM Evelyn asking witness about the design concern she had with Heilmann. Asking isn't that really an architect related area. That's correct says the witness.
Evelyn says didn't you have to approve the design before they went ahead. Yes agrees the witness.
Wilks remembers DOA employees being on site. Remembers Woodhouse from Xcel initially being on site but he was replaced by Sam Allen of JOA.
Woodhouse was involved in pre-construction phase asks Evelyn. Yes says the witness.
Witness says she had more and more contcat with Sam Allen after the fall of 2005. Witness says she saw more JOA employees than anyone else.
Wilks says that for a time in 2006, the spring, she began to see Woodhouse more. Project completed the fall of 2006. Evelyn done.
Thomas has no cross.
12:24PM New government witness is called. Tyrone Clifton, project manager with DBA. Been there since July 1st 2002. Manages capital projects, hires contractors, architects and engineers. The Detroit Building Authority is a city agency designed to build capital projects.
Clifton was involved in the Heilmann project between 2003 and 2004. Remembers the RFP process.
Looking at RFP to select design/build contractor. The construction project was for $7 million. At the time Elizabeth "Ayanna" Benson was the head of the DBA. Some of the board of directors: Carl Collins, Christine Beatty, Derrick Miller amongst others.
Clifton was on the Heilmann evaluation committee. The goal was to hire a contractor. Clifton says at the end of the process, he would have made a recommendation.
The mayor of the city of Detroit is automatically the chairperson of the DBA board. But meetings conducted by Christine Beatty.
Clifton says presentations were used to get to know the contractors better. Once they were evaluated, he would have collected everything to present to the director. Clifton says the point system was cumulative so the more points you had, the more favorably you were perceived.
Clifton looking at the scoring sheet for the qualifications of the contractors. Clifton, Wilks, Robert Hill, Benny Goldston and Vincent Anwunah comprised the evaluation committee team.
Clifton was present for the interviews, Ayanna Benson was not.
JOA/Xcel was represented by Akinwusi and Woodhouse. Clifton was at the presentation. He didn't think they had the same paraphernelia other teams did. The presentation was short, not eleborate, "nothing spectacular". Clifton said Woodhouse and Hall was fine, "they seemed cool." Clifton says their interview was not nearly as informative as the other interviews. Clifton gave JOA/Xcel 44 points.
Clifton shared spreadsheet of rankings with Benson. JOA/Xcel chosen as the team. Clifton says he wasn't knocked over in his seat but it was "little surprising."
Clifton says he has no specifics on how often Benson would go with the top recommendation. Spencer Dailey was a joint venture- AW Spencer is a minority business.
Looking at Clifton's evaluation of JOA/Xcel.
Clifton spoke to Wilks about Ferguson. Received a phone call from Wilks after the meeting about Patton Park project. Says Wilks was terribly upset. She told him she had a meeting with Ferguson and Anwunah that she told him was confrontational. told him she felt threatened about her job. Specifically said that Ferguson threatened about her job. Clifton says he told her that it was kind of over the top and not to worry about the job. Told her she shouldn't worry about Ferguson having any power over her job. Clifton says he strongly believed there was no way Bobby could influence her job.
12:45PM Both Thomas and Evelyn get up to object to Doeh asking Clifton about his telling Wilks who the players on the scene were.
Ferguson says something under his breath but it's loud enough for the judge to call him out on it.
Clifton says Benson was a mayoral appointee. Benson was under Beatty so she would have reported to her.
Clifton says that a DBA board member asked to see the spreadsheet numbers. When the decision was made to assign the contract to JOA/Xcel, said board member did not have the requested numbers.
Kwame totally focused on Clifton's testimony.
Clifton says he knows that Kwame and Ayanna Benson are cousins.
12:53PM Thomas cross examines. Makes a point of saying that Benson is Kwame's second cousin and had worked for the city previous to her position at DBA. Clifton says he found Benson highly principled and hard working.
Thomas says that there were no red flags on the Heilmann project. no says witness.
You were never pressured? Clifton says he was not.
Clifton says Kilpatrick never showed up to any Heilmann project meetings.
Clifton says he met Wilks in 2002. Thomas asks Clifton to explain civil service, which Wilks was a part of.
Clifton says he did feel Wilks's reaction about losing her job was not well founded and was over the top.
Clifton agrees that in her position it would not be unusual for Wilks to get into heated situations. Also was able to move forward on the Heilmann project without problem.
Thomas is done. And so is today's court session. We resume for an abbreviated day tomorrow 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.