DETROIT - Kwame Kilpatrick's lawyer James Thomas chipped away at the credibility of Derrick "Zeke" Miller Friday in an attempt to cast the star witness as a conniving and greedy liar willing to tell prosecutors whatever they want to hear in order to cut a better deal for himself.
It was the fourth day on the stand for Miller, a former close friend of Kilpatrick's who also served in his mayoral administration. The witness has pleaded guilty to violation of a federally funded program and tax evasion. His potential prison sentence is up to 10 years but he could get less than that for his cooperation in this case.
Read more: Inside court: Kwame Kilpatrick trial day 52
Up until this point, Miller has held up well on the stand appearing calm, cool and collected in his answers to lawyers' questions.
But on Friday, the exchange between Miller and Thomas became increasingly heated and testy. At one point, Miller even rolled his eyes derisively when answering the defense lawyer's questions.
Thomas began the court session by pointing out what he claimed were a series of inconsistencies in Miller's direct testimony. Thomas reiterated a point he made yesterday about Miller saying in his direct testimony that he, Kilpatrick and lawyer William Phillips had decided not to disclose a donors' list to the Kilpatrick Civic Fund in response to an August 2001 newspaper story about homeless shelter operator Jon Rutherford donating $50,000 to the non-profit. Thomas pointed out that the donors' list was in fact disclosed to federal authorities in April 2001.
"It wasn't meant to be filed. It was a mistake," replied Miller.
Thomas also addressed the issue of a check from Rutherford's company DPR Management LLC for $34,000 to Next Generation Detroit. Prosecutors had initially introduced the check as proof of Rutherford's donation to a Kilpatrick-affiliated Political Action Committee (PAC) but later withdrew it when they realized it should have read Generations PAC. Thomas told Miller that he had testified that Next Generation PAC was a Kilpatrick-affiliated PAC even though it had nothing to do with Kwame. Not only that, said Thomas, but Miller also tried to make a link between the $34,000 check amount and the limit on campaign contributions.
"During my testimony I might have inferred that," admitted Miller.
"Are you going to apologize?" asked an indignant Thomas.
"I can apologize if that's what you would like," retorted Miller somewhat cattily.
And that was just the beginning.
In the course of his cross-examination, Thomas challenged Miller on cash payments he testified to having received from businessman Karl Kado and then passed on to Kilpatrick. In his direct testimony, the witness told the court that he personally had received 2 payments of $10,000 in cash and once or twice he had received payment of $5,000 to $10,000 in denominations of hundreds for Kilpatrick. Thomas got Miller to acknowledge that at least one of those payments might have actually gone towards Kilpatrick's mayoral campaign. He also asked Miller if he wasn't in Kado's pocket.
"I was compromised," conceded Miller.
Thomas argued that Miller had a proclivity for lining his pockets. Referencing a deal Miller helped broker between commercial real estate firm Jones Lang Lasalle and the city of Detroit, Thomas accused the witness of conspiring with one of his partners to cut a third partner out of commissions. Miller didn't agree that was necessarily the case.
"Are we unclear here?" asked Thomas.
"I'm just making sure YOU'RE clear," answered Miller.
Then there was the $50 million sale and lease back deal. Miller testified yesterday that he made $568,000 for facilitating the lucrative transaction for local businessman Robert Shumake and that he helped secure financing for the deal from city pension fund boards. Thomas told Miller that he was contradicting himself when he said that he never put in a good word for Shumake with the pension fund boards because in his direct testimony he said he had. Miller claimed that he might have introduced Shumake in passing to people on the pension fund boards but that he never advocated on his behalf to them.
In an effort to illustrate the witness as a greedy thug, Thomas asked Miller about a public physical altercation that occurred between Shumake and Miller outside Detroit's Mosaic restaurant over the issue of his commissions. Miller said he never touched Shumake but did repeat twice, "I was hot".
Thomas also got Miller to tell the court how he set up the corporation Atrium Financial in an effort to hide his sizeable commission and how he doctored a Promissory Note when the federal authorities subpoenaed the company's financial records.
Thomas asked the witness why he did it. "To mislead? To misinform? To misdirect?"
Miller replied yes to all.
Thomas also questioned the whole scenario about passing Kilpatrick money in a restaurant bathroom. On Thursday, Miller had testified that he had received money from Asian Village restaurant developer Andrew Park to pass on to Kilpatrick. Thomas appeared incredulous that such a recognizable person as Kilpatrick would venture into a public bathroom to transact something he wanted to keep secret.
"For the record, Mr. Kilpatrick is a pretty big guy," said Thomas.
Thomas left the jurors to ruminate on the fact that Miller stood to gain much from his cooperating testimony. Kilpatrick's lawyer suggested that after 5 meetings in July and August 2010, federal agents thought Miller was lying and didn't see any merit in calling him as a witness as a trial.
Which is why, posited Thomas, Miller changed his tune after he was indicted and entered into a plea agreement in September 2011 to tell federal agents what they wanted to hear.
"You knew you were looking at basketball scores for a sentence," said Thomas. Later he added, "You saw the government as a train at the end of the track and unless you got out of the way, you would get hit."
"Yes, I will be testifying in hopes that I will get a sentence reduction," said Miller.
But then he amended his statement saying, "Cooperation is cooperation. If they are happy or sad, it's still up to the judge to decide sentencing."
Court resumes at 9 a.m. Monday.
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