Defense counsel in the Kwame Kilpatrick federal corruption trial did its best Thursday to paint local businessman Tony Soave as a magnate of such immeasurable wealth and power that he could never have been intimidated by former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick into hiring contractor Bobby Ferguson against his will.
Soave's performance on the witness stand this morning made it clear it's not just former mayors who don't intimidate him.
Vacillating between impatience and witty humor, Soave brimmed with confidence as he fielded defense questions.
Read Thursday's trial blog: Previous mayors didn't hold up contracts.
Mike Rataj, lawyer for Ferguson, began his cross-examination of the witness by laying out for the jury the magnitude of the tycoon's wealth. In 2009, Forbes magazine ranked the businessman's holding company as the 216th largest privately held company in the United States. Forbes also listed the company, which holds four separate portfolios under its umbrella, as having revenues of $2.5 billion dollars.
Impressive for a guy who started his business with nothing more than a "truck and a bulldozer" said Rataj.
"It's a lot of muchachos, yeah," concurred Soave to the sound of laughter erupting in the courtroom. "But it's a lot less glamorous than it sounds."
Soave firmly stood his ground when Rataj asked if Charlie Williams was nothing but a minority front because his company did not have employees and equipment. Williams was the initial sub-contractor for Soave's Inland Waters' Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) contract 1368 who was allegedly ousted at Kilpatrick's bidding to make way for Ferguson.
"That is not true," said Soave.
Under questioning by Rataj, Soave admitted that he never had any direct contact with Ferguson and that what he heard about him being "a pain in the butt" came from his employees. Rataj tried to get to Soave to relate to Ferguson by pointing out that to become such a successful businessman he must have rubbed some people the wrong way during the course of his career.
Though Soave conceded "there are different kinds of burrs beneath the saddle" and "it's a rough and tumble business", he also told an amused courtroom "I'm a lovable guy."
Soave told the court that his main problem with Ferguson was that he seemed to want to get paid for work that he didn't do. The businessman did agree with Rataj, however, that ultimately Ferguson did get the job done.
~Bobby Ferguson outside court~
"But we weren't going to pay him for not working. We made him do the work," said Soave
He also agreed that despite feeling threatened by Ferguson occasionally saying about contract 1368 "you realize you're here because of me", he never felt threatened enough to pick up the phone to ask either Ferguson or Kilpatrick to put an end to the threats.
Harold Gurewitz followed Rataj in questioning the witness. It was the first stab at cross-examination in this trial for Gurewitz, one of Kwame Kilpatrick's defense lawyers.
Gurewitz took aim at Soave's exact recollection of what was said in the April 2002 meeting where Kilpatrick was alleged to have told Soave that contract 1368 was being held up because he had "the wrong contractor."
Watch: Kilpatrick ordered back to court over missed restitution.
In an interesting move for the defense, Gurewitz introduced into evidence an internal memorandum between Soave and his in-house counsel Susan Johnson from March 2002, the month before the witness met with Kilpatrick to discuss contract 1368. The memo clearly indicated that Johnson had heard from various sources that the contract was being held up by the Mayor's office on account of Charlie Williams and "other supposedly more deserving contractors." In particular, Bobby Ferguson and Frank Torrey were mentioned as more deserving contractors.
Obviously Gurewitz was trying to show that most of what Soave heard about the contract being held up was coming from indirect sources. The memo, however, seemed rather supportive of prosecution claims that it was the Mayor's office that was holding up the contract.
Gurewitz took aim at Soave's exact memory of what was said in the conversation that took place between the former mayor and Soave more than a decade ago.
"I don't have dementia," said an irritated Soave in obvious reference to earlier government witness Karl Kado.