It was a great day for the defense which ably managed to cast doubt on prosecution claims that defendants Kwame Kilpatrick and contractor Bobby Ferguson killed city water contracts that weren't financially beneficial to them.
Over the last several days of testimony, the government had been attempting to paint businessman Avinash Rachmale of Lakeshore Engineering as the victim of two lost contracts worth a combined $15 million. Rachmale and former Lakeshore executive Tom Hardiman both testified in the trial that they lost contracts 1361 ($10 million) and 1387 ($5 million) with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) when they refused Ferguson's request for a 25% cut in the deal.
Contract 1361 was ultimately awarded to Inland Waters which included Ferguson on its team.
Defense counsel came out swinging today by countering that Kilpatrick and Ferguson couldn't have cancelled the water contracts because 1361 and 1387 were never technically awarded to Lakeshore Engineering to begin with.
Mike Rataj, a defense lawyer for Bobby Ferguson, was particularly on his game pointing out that the contracts 1361 and 1387 were both "as needed" contracts held in case of emergency that could be cancelled at a moment's notice by the DWSD.
"So it's incorrect to say they (Lakeshore) lost $5 million because it's possible that as an "as needed" contract they might never have received a penny. Isn't that true?" Rataj asked Latimer. The witness affirmed it was so.
Rataj proved there was much discussion internally at the DWSD over the need for the $5 million contract, 1387. The defense introduced ample documentation, including a letter from a head DWSD engineer who stated that in his estimation there was not much need for contract 1387. Then DWSD Deputy Director Gary Fujita wrote a handwritten note on a March 2003 memo concluding "I don't know if engineering has the resources or skill sets to do the work".
Rataj also turned the tables on Rachmale being painted as a helpless victim in the water contract deals by demonstrating that he used his own contacts within DWSD to steer work his way. He illustrated this by introducing into evidence a document from DWSD principal analyst Ed Ramey.
In the memo, Ramey questioned the scoring by evaluators on contract 1387 stating that he thought some of the contractors were purposely being low-balled to eliminate them from contention. Ramey also accused two engineers, both of Indian descent like Rachmale, of imposing their opinions on the other evaluators. And one of the two was a friend of Avinash Rachmale's.
"It appeared they were attempting to steer the contract to Lakeshore?," asked Rataj.
Yes replied Latimer.
Contract 1387 was ultimately cancelled in May 2003 and contract 1361 was rolled into an existing $50 million contract, 1368, with Inland Waters.
Rataj argued that rolling 1361 into 1368 was a cost-saving measure. That may yet need to be proven- after 5 work order amendments, most of which came after a sinkhole disaster in 2004, Inland Waters ended up making $138 million on the contract.
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.