Inside court: Closing arguments in the Bobby Ferguson case
Bobby Ferguson accused of benefiting from rigged bids during Kwame Kilpatrick administration
The long running, highly publicized trial of Detroit Contractor and Kwame Kilpatrick friend Bobby Ferguson is winding down. Today the closing arguments began. In all, six attorneys are expected to deliver roughly eight hours of arguments before the jury. Judge David Lawson started the proceedings at 8:30am. The jury is made up of 18 people right now, 12 regular jurors and six alternates: eight men, eight women with two African Americans [a man and a woman]. In attendance was U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade to watch her team’s work. Bobby Ferguson was wearing a brown pinstripe suit with leather collar and sleeves, white shirt and brown striped tie.
--Local 4's Rod Meloni is inside Federal Court
The prosecution pleadings came from lead prosecutor J. Michael Buckley. He spent nearly two hours laying out the eight count case against Ferguson, Ferguson Construction, XCell Construction [a company Ferguson founded], another company A&F Environmental and two men, co-defendants Michael Woodhouse and Calvin Hall. There are two weapons charges, a conspiracy to defraud the United States government charge, money laundering and conspiracy to structure financial transactions. Buckley started out saying the evidence of "outrageous fraud" is not just plentiful, he said "there is sobering evidence in this case." He called the case against Ferguson one of fraud, deceit and greed; arrogance and apathy. He claimed Ferguson and his co-defendants operated with a sense of entitlement a notion "the rules don’t apply to them." One of the more egregious crimes he alleges Ferguson committed was dumping hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of highly contaminated soil from a construction project Ferguson was performing for the Detroit Water Department on the former Herman Gardens housing project site [re-named for its reconstruction] called Garden View Estates. There were thousands of people waiting for over a year to move into the homes that would be built. Buckley says Ferguson, as a way to double bill the federal government ["line his pockets with $700,000"], he arranged to dump the contaminated soil there that delayed construction, got the contract to clean up the mess [he allegedly made] and then was in control of the entire reconstruction of the infrastructure that brought him another $2 million. All told Ferguson took in nearly $12 million on the Garden View Estates project. Buckley repeatedly showed jurors on a computer screen, [each juror also has a computer screen in front of him or her] document after document showing what he characterized as "a manifesto of lies". Buckley called Ferguson "the man behind the curtain" orchestrating business between all the companies and the men running them to orchestrate millions of dollars that federal agents found in cash in safes in three different Ferguson offices and residences.
Download:Bobby Ferguson Indictment
Download:Ferguson Search Warrant
Buckley detailed how Ferguson allegedly “bid rigged” the work on the Garden View Estates with two suburban Detroit contractors; Ron Burrell and Brian Dodds of Howell. Both testified in the case. Buckley showed jurors a City of Detroit security badge with Ferguson’s picture and name on it, confiscated by the FBI when it raided Ferguson’s offices and businesses. Buckley had called to the stand former Detroit Deputy Mayor Kandia Milton [who pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges] to testify against Ferguson who told jurors Ferguson had unprecedented access to former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s city hall offices and also had run of the Manoogian Mansion. Milton testified as Kwame Kilpatrick was in the final days of his administration he was expending considerable energy trying to make certain the City paid Ferguson for the Garden View Estates project. Buckley called Ferguson and Kilpatrick “princes of the city”. Buckley showed check after check from Ferguson and the companies involved and explained how Ferguson orchestrated the alleged fraud. Buckley held up in court two different handguns, a .380 semi automatic and a 9mm Taurus. The .380 found inside a safe inside Ferguson’s Guardian Building offices, the other inside a locked desk drawer in the same office.
Ferguson is a convicted felon[which means he can not own or have a gun] and Buckley explained he had control over the locks on the safe, his desk drawer, the office and the front door to the office space. The prosecutor finished his close by discussing a Ferguson employee, Shakib Deria, who he said Ferguson attempted to force into saying the .380 was really his gun. Deria did so and ended up pleading guilty to lying to federal officers in exchange for his testimony and hopes to get probation. Buckley thanked the jury for listening and said there is more than ample evidence to find Bobby Ferguson guilty as charged.
Gerald Evelyn is Bobby Ferguson’s lawyer. His take on the case was, as you would expect, quite different. He accused the Federal Government of taking a tough job and making it even more difficult. He assailed Buckley’s characterizations of a “curtain of deceit” and “princes of the city” along with a torrent of publicity as having the “temerity” to create a lot of noise in a case with next to no evidence. He said there was no reason to bring Kwame Kilpatrick into the case considering the former mayor has nothing to do with it. Evelyn said the government has been misstating the evidence from the outset. He warned jurors “to make sure you know what the evidence is and resist the temptation to be influenced by things that aren’t in this case”. He railed against what he called witnesses who “sold testimony to the government to escape prison.” He pointed to the testimony of Burrell and Dodds, how it is more likely they conspired with each other, said they both lied to the grand jury, that there was no evidence presented they ever even spoke with Ferguson and there are missing documents related to the claims they made on the stand. He quoted Burrell and Dodds using racial epithets regarding Bobby Ferguson. As far as the money laundering charges, Evelyn said “you don’t launder something that’s not dirty.” He said Bobby Ferguson declared every dime he made on his tax returns. Evelyn also said the IRS searched through Ferguson’s finances going back years and found no discrepancies. He believes the reason for that is Ferguson had nothing to hide. What’s more he said the feds made much of the cash [at least $3 million] they found in Ferguson’s safes. Evelyn said the banks that he did business with refused to take his money anymore and he said “what do you do with your cash when the banks don’t take it?” What’s more he pointed out; it is not illegal to have cash in a safe. Evelyn said the jury has been “grossly misled” by a prosecution team taking steps to create the appearance of wrongdoing without providing the evidence after a shoddy investigation. He said “good copy for the news media is not a substitute for proof”. Evelyn slammed Kandia Milton saying he lied to everyone including his wife about taking a bribe and there is no reason now to believe his bought and paid for testimony. Evelyn claimed the Garden View Estates project was polluted before Ferguson ever got there and discovered polluted material while excavating a pond. Evelyn slammed Shakib Deria’s testimony as another example of bought and paid for testimony resulting in a passel of lies. He said Deria’s testimony makes no sense because he claimed Ferguson asked him to claim the .380 was his when there was a second gun in the office. “If Ferguson was concerned about guns wouldn’t he have asked Deria to claim both as his?” Evelyn said Ferguson may have started Xcell Construction but had ceded control long ago. He said Ferguson had lost bids he had put in to XCell. In the end Evelyn said the feds have “a terrible need to demonize my client, to make him subhuman so you will ignore the missing evidence.” Evelyn said the City of Doetroit ID badge the FBI found in fact was not for Detroit City Hall but instead for the Guardian Building which is right around the corner from the City/County building and where Ferguson had his main office. He concluded by telling the jury “it is my hope and belief you are too smart, that you know what is connected and not connected. Don’t be persuaded by prejudice, emotion and name calling. Reject it!”
Todd Flood represents A&F Environmental/Johnson Construction Services which is charged with in the money structuring case. This is a count where money gets laundered. Flood called the feds disingenuous in their case. He said when there are witnesses on the stand who are trading their testimony for lesser jail time the law requires a higher standard evidence. Flood said the feds did not provide that evidence. He said the feds did not check facts, back up with more evidence from the witnesses against his clients. He called the government’s case “a square peg in a round hole.” He closed by saying guessing and speculating about evidence that has not been present doesn’t work. He said do not judge a book by its cover, that the case against his client is just that.
Jeffrey Eddison represents Calvin Hall, Vice President of XCell Construction. He gave the most spirited pleadings of the day. His was a high decibel, preacher like presentation. He gave the history of the political problems between the Detroit Housing Commission, The Housing and Urban Development Department and the Detroit Building Authority. He believes politics were an important part of this case. He said there is the claim Kwame Kilpatrick intervened to make sure "his buddy Bobby Ferguson got paid!" He raised the level of his pleadings another notch when he started talking about the evidence his client. He said "what evidence do you have that Mr. Hall was involved in this conspiracy?" Yes he was the Vice President, yes he was there when the contract was signed to do the Garden View Estates project. Does that make him a co-conspirator? The law says even if he knew about conspiracy the government needs to prove he was involved. What witness did you hear that Mr. Hall was involved? You have none! The government would have you believe by virtue of position he was involved? No, they have made it so you have to guess whether he was or was not because there is no evidence. What did he know, what was his intent? You have to guess. He asked the jury to consider "how many references to Calvin Hall to the Garden View project? What did he do that was fraudulent?" He then lit into the two witnesses Burrell and Dodds. He said they lied to the grand jury, and they lied to this jury. He assailed them as racists, quoting from testimony they were angry at Bobby Ferguson and called him racial epithets, and even went after an FBI agent involved with Burrell and Dodds whom he said was part of the hate crimes unit and she dismissed the phrases as not being important. Eddison said it is important to African Americans. He concluded by saying “the arrogance and conceit of the government” shows with the handling of the Bobby Ferguson ID badge and a key allowing him into the mayor’s office. When the government was asked whether agents checked whether the badge or key gave him access to the mayor’s office the testimony was no! "What are they trying to do?" The prosecutor, the government has not sustained its burden of proof with reliable evidence. "If the key don’t fit you must acquit."
Attorney David Steingold is up next. He represents Ferguson Enterprises, Bobby Ferguson’s Constrcution company. He is quite spirited as well. He is hammering away at the government’s case. He was particularly frustrated by what he called the “terrible integrity of this investigation.” He repeatedly pointed out what he sees are holes in the government’s case and warned jurors they can not use “blind faith” to convict anyone. He believes the agents who investigated the case did not do nearly enough to ask questions and probe into issues that were obviously in need of checking. In particular he was concerned about the City of Detroit i.d. card the Feds found in Bobby Ferguson’s drawer along with the key. He claims the investigating agents did not ask enough questions and check out the card at all, they just assumed it gave Ferguson access to Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s offices. He asked “How hard would it have been to go and ask what the badge is or does, it has no magnetic stripe, why? Did they do that? No!” He told jurors you seriously have to question the integrity of this investigation. He blasted former Deputy Mayor Kandia Milton, who testified Ferguson had complete access to the mayor’s office when he lied to everyone about taking a couple thousand dollars in bribes. He said the oath Milton took before he testified was meaningless to him and there is no way anyone could believe a word he said. He then attacked Rodney Burrell and Brian Dodds as even less reliable than Kandia Milton calling them perjurors who lied on the stand. He said there was testimony they used racial epithets and federal investigators were not at all concerned about that language. He added Burrell and Dodds provided none of their business records to the feds, they are missing. Steingold said Bobby Ferguson’s records were available, and the feds went through his financial records with a fine tooth comb. He said if there was one discrepancy in those finances, if his finances were not completely transparent there would be another attorney sitting at the prosecution table. He screamed at one pint “give us anything to show they checked Burrell’s story?” He added Burrell and Dodds have lied from start to finish. He concluded by saying Bobby Ferguson should not be sitting here, that it was him and his company that was defrauded by the Housing and Urban Development agency and the Detroit Housing Commission. He told jurors the entire federal case is pure conjecture and the feds have not begun to make their case.