DETROIT - Kwame Kilpatrick's defense team contended Friday that the reason the former Detroit mayor was so flush with cash was because he had stockpiled it from solicitations at birthday parties, his office and even at his own wedding reception.
The defense in the Kwame Kilpatrick federal corruption trial has maintained that the former mayor accumulated a "cash hoard" from gifts throughout the years which would account for the nearly $841,000 the government alleges Kilpatrick spent beyond his mayoral salary.
Joseph Zainea, co-owner of Detroit's Majestic Theatre Center, testified today that he babysat Kilpatrick's twin boys as preparations were made for the former mayor's 30th birthday party at the venue.
Zainea told the court that between 200 to 300 people attended the festivities which were paid for with a $5,200 check from Kilpatrick's mother Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick.
Kilpatrick defense lawyer James Thomas showed jurors the invitation to the party which included pictures of the mayor as a baby, a young boy and the age he was at the time of event. Thomas pointed to an inscription at the very bottom of the invitation that read "wishing well" and asked the witness what he thought that meant.
Zainea indicated that he felt it was a common term used to request monetary donations.
Next to testify was federal bank examiner and longtime Kilpatrick friend Erik Rayford who recounted being invited to the former mayor's wedding ceremony in the Bahamas in September 1995. A reception for the Kilpatricks followed at the Wayne County Building Atrium.
Thomas produced the wedding invitation which clearly indicated "Monetary Gifts Preferred."
Rayford said he thought that the number of guests at the reception counted "in the hundreds."
Rayford also testified to attending several of Kilpatrick's birthday parties including the June 2006 "Splash of Red" bash at the Atheneum Hotel. Though the witness did not specifically recall cash gifts being solicited at the 36th birthday party, he thought that would have happened as that was the case at other parties.
Another witness, William Tandy, director of the Upward Bound program at Wayne State University, told the court that he also attended the "packed" Splash of Red event at the Atheneum. He, however, clearly recalled making a cash contribution.
"I was trying to give $10 but gave $100," explained the witness about how he felt he had to step up his gifting.
Ex-Kilpatrick aide Kizzi Montgomery described bi-annual cash gifting in her 6 years with the administration.
"Donations were expected," Montgomery told the court about requests for cash for the mayor for his birthday and at Christmas time.
The witness testified that her first donation around the time she started working for Kilpatrick in 2002 was for around $20 to $25 and that the last donation she made in 2006 was for $100. She explained that directors were requested to give $500 while cabinet members were told to donate $1000. Montgomery told jurors that when she worked for Kilpatrick there were approximately 25 department directors and 10 cabinet members.
Montgomery was yet another attendee of Kilpatrick's Splash of Red party. She recalled a Kilpatrick supporter making a substantial financial donation and encouraging others to follow suit.
She agreed with Thomas that Kilpatrick himself never pressed her to make gifts.
"A sign of affection for the mayor," Thomas described the gifts.
"Sure," replied the witness.
However, Montgomery agreed with U.S. Attoney Mark Chutkow that some mayoral employees complained about said gifts and that it was Kilpatrick's cousin Nneka Cheeks who made the collections.
She also agreed that Kilpatrick reciprocated with gifts for his employees only once when he gave them all $50 Target gift cards for their birthdays.
Finally, Chutkow pointed out that the cash collected from employees went towards purchasing a Rolex watch and a golf vacation for the mayor.
The defense also made sure that jurors heard that Kilpatrick did not abuse of the Kilpatrick Civic Fund and that the non-profit was used towards positive ends.
Kilpatrick pal Rayford testified that he participated on the board of the Civic Fund between 2001 and 2008 as a way to serve the community.
He told the court that he was at the final meeting in the dining room of the Manoogian Mansion in 2008 to wind up the Civic Fund. He described how Kilpatrick addressed the board members and lawyer William Phillips and told them that he would be leaving office and moving away.
Rayford said that after Kilpatrick left the meeting, the remaining attendees approved financially supporting the mayor with his move. The witness elaborated that he did not think there was anything wrong with their decision particularly since Phillips did not object.
U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta countered the decision by having Rayford look at the Civic Fund by-laws.
"Upon dissolution, any assets remaining after full and complete payment to debtors shall be donated to a 501c4 organization with a similar purpose by majority vote of the board of directors," read the witness.
Tandy, an organizer of the the Detroit little league football team the Westside Cubs, testified that in the period between 2004 and 2008, the Civic Fund donated 7 checks totaling $10,800 to the team.
He was unaware, however, that that the Civic Fund had used the Westside Cubs in donation solicitation letters that went out in the years 2006 through 2008.
Court resumes at 9 a.m. Monday.
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