DETROIT - A defense witness told jurors Monday that two government star witnesses who testified earlier in the Kwame Kilpatrick federal corruption trial were both untruthful characters. Before testimony even began, Judge Nancy Edmunds informed jurors that defense expected to wrap by Wednesday and that closing arguments would likely begin next Monday. Sharon McPhail, former Detroit City Council member, was the first defense witness to take the stand Monday. McPhail was for a time an outspoken critic of Kwame Kilpatrick. The ex-Councilwoman once called the former mayor a thug and even suggested he had someone rig her electric chair massager to shock her.
McPhail ultimately changed her tune, however, after she went to work for Kilpatrick when he was re-elected as mayor. She was subpoenaed to appear in this trial. Under questioning by Kilpatrick's lawyer James Thomas, McPhail told the court that when she failed to make it to the primary in the 2005 Detroit mayoral race, she decided to give her support to underdog Kilpatrick who was trailing 38 points behind his opponent Freman Hendrix. The witness said that she helped Kilpatrick prepare for the mayoral debates debates and that just as he was about to take office again, he asked if she would come work for him. She ended up in a cabinet level position working as Kilpatrick's general counsel. McPhail explained she was given the responsibility of redesigning various city departments. Amongst those was the Human Rights department whose then director, Gerard Grant Phillips, and chief compliance officer, Kim Harris, both reported to McPhail. Earlier in the trial, Harris testified that his then boss Grant Phillips, a Kilpatrick appointee, had asked him to decertify a competitor of contractor Bobby Ferguson's. Harris also testified that his boss invoked Kilpatrick by saying: "The mayor wants it done." Under prompting from Thomas, McPhail told jurors that she didn't feel Harris was an effective administrator in Human Rights. Thomas asked if McPhail ever witnessed people extolling the mayor's name in order to get things done. "It happened all the time," replied McPhail. Thomas also asked the witness if she knew Derrick Miller.
Miller, a former high-ranking Kilpatrick aide, served as a star witness for the government in this trial. The ex-Kilpatrick close friend who has already pleaded guilty in this case, testified to sharing kickbacks and bribes from Detroit businessmen with the former mayor and to helping steer contracts Ferguson's way under his boss's instructions.
When McPhail answered that she knew Miller, the defense lawyer questioned the witness on her opinions of his truthfulness. "I didn't trust him. He didn't tell the truth," said the witness. McPhail told the court that she also knew political fund-raiser Emma Bell. Another key witness for the government, Bell, who pleaded guilty to income tax invasion, testified to pulling wads of cash out of her bra for kickback payments of more than $200,000 to Kilpatrick. Thomas asked McPhail if she thought Bell was a truthful person. "No," replied the witness. McPhail also corroborated the testimony of last Friday's defense witness Kizzi Montgomery, a former Kilpatrick aide, who told the court about cash gifts employees would make to their boss at Christmas and on his birthday. McPhail testified that she would give $1,000 every year for Kilpatrick's birthday when former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty would collect "a big ball of money." Interestingly, the government opted to not cross examine McPhail.
Next on the stand was Theo Simmons, a part-time demolition worker. Simmons, who worked with his brother Eric Simmons at E & T Trucking Inc., told the court that he did several jobs for Ferguson. Under questioning by Gerald Evelyn, one of Ferguson's defense lawyers, Simmons testified that Ferguson served as a sort of mentor to him and his brother, offering up some office space when they suffered break-ins at their business location and allowing them to his equipment and materials. When asked by U.S .Attorney Mark Chutkow if he knew that E & T Trucking Inc. had paid Bernard Kilpatrick's Maestro Associates $40,000 or about a fee dispute between Ferguson and his brother, the witness replied "I don't know anything about nothing." The last witness on the day was Lewis McVay, a retired construction worker. McVay testified that after happily working with Hayes Excavating for 16 years, he was forced to leave the company when they ceased working with the union. McVay went on to work for Ferguson who told him that "he needed some black supervision." The witness said that in his 6 years with Ferguson Enterprises Inc, he learned a lot from the contractor.
"With Mr. Ferguson, you had to be accountable," explained McVay. Under cross, Chutkow asked McVay if he knew that William Hayes of Hayes Excavating couldn't pay his union dues because he was losing city work. The U.S. Attorney then proceeded to show a text which had already been introduced in the case in which Ferguson texted Kilpatrick that "Hayes Excavation cussed out Victor and told him stuff his job" and then proceeded to mock the contractor. "Victor" was a reference to then Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) head Victor Mercado. Pointing out that Hayes Excavating was a minority business that employed Detroit residents, Chutkow asked McVay if it would upset him to know that the former mayor and Ferguson were laughing about Hayes. After a long pause, the mild-mannered witness asked, "Do you want my personal opinion, sir?" "That's the only one I want," said Chutkow. "I wouldn't like that," replied McVay. Court resumes Tuesday at 9AM.
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