Testimony resumed Monday in the Kwame Kilpatrick federal corruption trial after it was put on break for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Before the week-long break, businessman Avinash Rachmale testified that his firm cut Detroit contractor Bobby Ferguson in on multi-million dollar deals to keep him happy.
Rachmale said Ferguson, who is also a longtime friend of Kilpatrick, threatened to shut down his projects numerous times.
Kilpatrick faces tax, conspiracy, fraud, extortion and bribery charges. His co- defendants in the trial include Ferguson and his father, Bernard.
Ex-Detroit water chief Victor Mercado had also been charged but has since pleaded guilty.
It’s been a little while since we’ve sat in on the Kwame Kilpatrick, Bobby Ferguson and Bernard Kilpatrick corruption trial. Judge Nancy Edmunds ordered a holiday break and so court has been out since November 16th.
If this blog "voice" sounds a little different it’s because it’s Paula Tutman, filling in for the vacationing Shawn Ley. Kevin Dietz will be sliding into this seat shortly.
How about we get you caught up. In case you’ve forgotten, how could you? AND THEN THERE WERE THREE. The Water Department’s, Victor Mercado plead guilty Nov. 5th, just before the break. He will face up to 18-months in prison for his role in the alleged pay-for-play schemes leading through Kwame Kilpatrick’s office. And while he now stands convicted, Kilpatrick and his crew have not been, so we’re sticking with “alleged” because where Kwame, Bernard and Bobby are concerned that’s what these crimes are... alleged. In case you’re wondering, the jury has not been told why Mercado is no longer sitting at that long defense table, just that he’s not part of the trial, anymore.
The jury has been ordered to avoid any media on the trial, so they shouldn’t have any idea why there are now three defendants and not four.
The three left are colorful characters, indeed. They take the long way into the court house every day to make sure TV cameras catch them in whatever attire they happen to be sporting that day, and to make sure the public sees that they’ve been maintaining their collective, “What me worry” demeanor. Bobby Ferguson is usually pumping his fists, frowning and making it look like he’s giving his defense team the orders.
Kwame Kilpatrick sports glasses, a scarf or some fashion item. He usually has a smile on his face and loves it when people honk their horns on Fort Street and yell, “Free Kwame,” as he enters.
The usually chatty Bernard, patriarch of the Kilpatrick clan is a little more circumspect, is dying to say something but is heeding his defense team and staying mum as he enters the courthouse. He’s always polite, smiles nicely, but his eyes show a little worry every time I’ve seen him go in.
And honestly, guilty or innocent, who wouldn’t be worried. These guys face serious charges. We’re talking about various corruption charges between them. The crimes these three are accused of committing are hefty. Bribery, corruption, tax evasion, wire & mail fraud, extortion and obstruction of justice. Kwame faces 33 various charges, his boyhood pal, Bobby faces 14 various charges and Bernard faces 6 various charges.
I did a little math because I had a little extra time before court resumed today. If you add up all of the charges, possible jail time and fines, if these three are convicted of all 53 various charges, they would spend a combined 86 years in prison and pay $1.7 million din fines. That $1.7 million is an interesting number today. Stay tuned, I’ll explain in a minute.
So much for background, let’s get to the current stuff. When we left off ten days ago, Avinash Rachmale, former vice president of Lakeshore Engineering, was testifying that his firm tried to intercept the influence of Bobby Ferguson who allegedly played Godfather to city contracts. The Feds say, Ferguson became the guy who nodded his head to let City contracts go through, or gave the thumbs down when he wasn’t cut in on the deal. If the Feds are right, he had a sweet deal, indeed. They claim he demanded money to do zero work. The payoffs were allegedly to keep Ferguson from throwing roadblocks into the mix. The last thing the jury heard before heading off for Thanksgiving dinner was that Lakeshore Engineering paid Ferguson $1.7 million to keep him smiling and out of their hair.
If that sounds like a lot of cash to pay a guy to do absolutely nothing, if you believe Mr. Rachmale, it was a bargain. He (Rachmale) testified under oath that he believed Bobby Ferguson sandbagged as much as $15 million worth of city contracts in 2003 because the gravy train hadn’t gone through Ferguson Station first.
As soon as Lakeshore Engineering paid the $1.7 million -fare, according to Rachmale, the switch was thrown and trains moved along the city tracks. It’s a big charge and one Ferguson’s highly paid, highly aggressive defense attorney, Gerald Evelyn will try to throw water on. And that’s what we expect to see today.
Okay, everyone caught up? Testimony resumes at 9:00 am so stay tuned.
Day 27: Court is in session.
Judge is taking up a sidebar issue before the jury comes in. A motioned was filed Sunday in regard to agent summaries. Okay, here’s where I promise to only blog about stuff that will be of real interest in the real prosecution of this case. While there are a lot of legal underpinnings that are important and relevant, it’s stuff you probably don’t want clogging up your phone. But I thought I’d lay the groundwork for my style early. Stay tuned... Jury still to be called, testimony still to come...
The judge made reference to the case being still active... in the second week in January. She wanted to know if the prosecution will if its ‘proofs’ in by then. Hold on guys, it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride.
Okay, taking the stand right now is Avinash Rachmale, former vice president of Lakeshore Engineering. Remember he was testifying that his firm tried to intercept the influence of Bobby Ferguson who allegedly played Godfather to city contracts.
Judge is apologizing to the jurors who apparently didn’t get their checks last week because of a clerical error. She’s promising it won’t happen again.
Rachmale was with the Water Department and part of the Kwame Kilpatrick transition team when he ran for mayor. Rachmale is on the stand saying that he believed that Kwame Kilpatrick would be good for the city.
Rachmale just testified that during the time Kilpatrick was mayor, there was no one else he feared would get in the way of City contracts other than Bobby Ferguson.
The company paid for work on City directed work to Lakeshore. It says the job would be a direct contract between Ferguson Enterprises and Lakeshore. The exhibit shows an email from the company President basically green-lighting a contract with Ferguson. Ws-671 was a project for work that had expired. Apparently there was work still to be done and the City said the water main work needed to be completed by Ferguson. The contract is from April of 2010.
Now, I gotta tell you. I’m just jumping in here, but it seems to me that just throwing up receipts and emails without telling the story of why they’re there will start making the eyes of jurors glaze over. But I guess we’ll see if they can keep up and remember what’s going on from 10 days ago.
Okay, Now Bernard Kilpatrick’s defense attorney is grilling Mr. Avinash Rachmale the former Vice President of Lakeshore Engineering.
An exhibit is now on the screen that’s from Mr. Rachmale. Okay, I think I said he was a former VP, but this email indicates he was the president in 2003 of Lakeshore.
The work requested of Ferguson was for Emergency Sewer Repair Services and Related Rehabilitation. Work on an as needed bases.
Now that could mean a lot of things in a City like Detroit that has aging sewer pipes.
Bernard’s attorney is basically indicated that Bernard Kilpatrick was paid $2,500 at his apartment for consulting services.
On the screen is a check to Maistro Associates for $2,500.
Tom Hardiman’s name is coming up again. Remember, he’s the contractor who testified before the break who also testified that work couldn’t be successfully bid on without going through Bobby Ferguson, first.
Here’s what’s going on. Bernard Kilpatrick’s attorney is trying to give Bernard plausible deniability. He’s putting the weight on Ferguson as the go-to guy, but even though there was a check made out to Maestro Associates, which was Bernard’s business, the dot’s trying to be connected are that BK didn’t direct business to Ferguson, but other business people did.
Keep in mind, these witnesses are being asked to recall details that happened eight or nine years ago. Mr. Rachmale speaks with a heavy Indian accent and that’s important in that, he is constantly asking for clarification or for questions to be repeated. If the attorney is trying to confuse Rachmale, it might be working, and he could draw a conclusion that his testimony isn’t consistent. But keep in mind you’ve got a whole bunch of jurors who also have to keep track of the rapid fire questioning and the testimony of a man who seems a bit confused and fuzzy on some of the details of the past.
Gerald Evelyn is cross examining Avinash Rachmale. If you think he was confused before, wait until Evelyn gets wound up. He tends to be a rapid –fire quiz-master.
Okay, here’s my observation, and remember it’s just a personal observation. These attorneys, both on the prosecution side and the defense side have such an intimate knowledge of all of these facts, they know these exhibits and they know the point they want to drive home to the jury with each. But after years of covering trials... almost thirty...yes I started when I was six ;-), what I have found is if you don’t connect the dots in a chronological easy to understand story, you’ll lose the jury.
What’s happening here is receipts and emails are being tossed up on an overhead projector and pulled down so quickly it’s hard to digest what’s what.
Let me give you a visual of what’s going on in the courtroom. Bobby Ferguson just hopped seats to sit next to Kwame Kilpatrick. Ferguson has been spending a lot of time jotting down notes on a legal pad. He’s big on talking. I’ve noticed that in the past. He likes to talk, he likes people to see that he’s talking, he likes to be visible taking notes. Not sure if he’s listening, but he's doing a lot of talking and note taking. It's interesting because his name is coming up more than any other name, at the moment, and its his defense attorney trying to wade through the thick accent and confusion of a witness who is testifying against him.
Kwame is reclined just a bit. His arms are loosely crossed. Even though he’s an attorney he doesn’t seem to do much writing. I don't see him talking to his attorneys much, he’ll confer with Ferguson, and sometimes exchange eye contact with his dad, Bernard who’s got a direct line of vision because he's on the long side of the ‘L’ of the defense table.
Gerlad Evelyn is winding up now. He’s rapid-fire questioning the witness. Evelyn is trying to draw a conclusion that Ferguson was giving up contract work when the company went with a different contractor and therefore needed to be paid. In other words, if he was contracted to do the work and the company changed their mind, it means they have to pay a penalty. The question will be, was this penalty money for breaking a contract with Bobby Ferguson, or Pay-to-Play money to get City contracts to begin with.
Here’s what they’re talking about right now.
Payments received from the City would go directly to Lakeshore Engineering. Sometimes Ferguson would call Lakeshore and ask if they’d gotten paid by the City, yet. Lakeshore set up a pool of money to be split by all parties, equally. When Lakeshore got paid, all of the sub-contractors got paid. Bobby Ferguson, was considered one of those subcontractors.
With me so far?
Excell corporation, a company linked to Bobby Ferguson, was paid to help manage a specific City contract. They did do some work. The question is, was it enough to justify the fees. They mostly advised Hardiman on quality control issues and staffing or at least, that's what's being testified to.
Avinash Rachmale has been asked point blank, by Evelyn, "Did Mr. Ferguson’s company do work? " Answer.: “Some work.” Question: “Would you use them again?” Answer: “For certain things”.
Here’s the offshoot of what Evelyn appears to be attempting. He appears to be trying to connect dots to legitimate business practices between Lakeshore and Bobby Ferguson. He’s showing that the witness on the stand has fuzzy details, (keep in mind, this stuff happened nine years ago. Do you remember specific details of purchases and receipts from nine years ago without records?) and Evelyn is showing text messages... oh,yeah, here we go again with text messages... showing that the company tried to call Ferguson or his representatives to get specifics on these water main jobs... meaning that Ferguson and his company must have been doing work, and not collecting workless-paydays and bribes to get the contracts.
Are you keeping up with all this? Well if you’re not, a bigger question is, is the jury keeping up with all of this? It’s a lot to keep up. And keep in mind, they’ve been away for ten days and so they need to get back into the rhythm of what’s going on.
Keep in mind this testimony isn’t nearly as colorful as it’s been in the past. Today is mostly about throwing up documents, emails, checks and receipts from a multitude of people, names and businesses. This is really technical, nitty gritty stuff that doesn’t have the human element. It’s mostly the paper trail and somehow the prosecution and the defense with have to bring this down to terms of people and how these numbers affected people and their hopes, dreams, aspirations and abilities to get basic work done in the city.
So far, I’m not seeing that. I’m just hearing talk about paper trails.
Evelyn just asked for a 20 minute break. She said okay. So I'll see you at noon.
During the break, Kwame Kilpatrick was buying-up every over the counter cold medication he could grab. Rataj is also stricken, illness is definitely running through the court room. The holidays can be rough.
Back in session - Evelyn continues cross of Rachmale. CM-2015 negotiations memo displayed on overhead. Defense is trying to show Ferguson was really a legitimate contractor - this time as Xcel Construction. Evelyn could be trying to numb the collective brains of the jury.
Cold medication seems to have grabbed hold of Kilpatrick, he might be sleeping.
Evelyn continues - back to CM-2014, more documents previously admitted, showing Willy McCormick was a part of this bid. Ultimately lost out to FEI, both minority contractors. We have seen this all before during Tom Hardimans' testimony.
Memo from Belayet Hossain - Project Manager (LES) October 30, 2007, to Al White (FEI )concerning a 16" water main break. In the memo LES is requesting FEI's liability insurance on the job where Ferguson "came to the rescue" and helped out LES.
The leaking water main on CM-2014 was an emergency project, and repaired by FEI who was working in the area of the break. Ferguson rushed in and helped out. A change order was submitted for the work, but the work was done before they got paid. Evelyn's contention is that LES was not "forced" to work with FEI, but rather LES requested their help and wanted Ferguson on this emergency project.
Evelyn contends: FEI actually saved the reputation of LES who had flooded the neighborhood with water. Because of the help and expertise of Ferguson, CM-2014 was a success and LES could do more work in the future (they are now a multi-billion dollar federal contractor.) This is some limb we are out on.
Evelyn is taking quite a bit of time to gather his next exhibits.
Evelyn asks for a 5 minute break.
During the break the judge asked Evelyn if he would finish his questions today, Evelyn replied: "he hoped so." He has many questions and it seems to be taking longer than he expected.
Back in session Evelyn is having trouble gathering his exhibits. Several minutes pass as Evelyn shuffles his documents.
Chutkow asks for a side bar.
Back in session. Evelyn asks Rachmale if LES had been fined in the past. Rachmale had no immediate recollection of fines. Evelyn provided documents to Rachmale that show LES had repeated violations from contaminated water discharged into the Detroit River. The judge will not allow the documents into evidence.
Furthermore, the judge advises Evelyn's line of questioning is not proper and he cannot ask questions of a document that is not part of the evidence.
Evelyn notes his objection to the judges objection, and they call another side bar.
Back in session - Evelyn's first question is improper and stopped by the judge. Evelyn retrieves his documents from Rachmale.
Evelyn unmercifully starts a new line of questioning. Asks contract questions of Rachmale as to the prevailing wage of contract workers.
Chutkow objects as to the relevance, the judge agrees.
Moving on - Back to the LES Timeline of services to DWSD we saw during the cross of Hardiman.
LES has $157,821,949.41 in contracts with DWSD that Evelyn is crediting to the relationship with Bobby Ferguson.
Evelyn is now making the connection between DWSD Engineer Dilip Patel who was working for Sky Group and the City at the same time. Because of this relationship, the city suspended Patel.
Evelyn claims Patel was steering city work to LES.
Patel's wife was also paid $2,500 a month from Sky Group for an unknown reason.
Rachmale denies Patle worked for Sky Group or Lake Shore. Patel was a friend of Rachmale who had an office in his building. Patel had a pass key to the office, but Rachmale claims he had no knowledge Patel had an office in his building. Patel was just his friend who happened to be a DWSD Engineer.
When Rachmale became aware of the office, Rachmale took Patel's pass key and cell phone so his friend would not get into trouble. Doesn't sound very credible, but that is his testimony.
Evelyn has no further questions, we are done for the day.