DETROIT - Government star witness Derrick Miller's testimony Monday may not have risen to expected dramatic levels but did serve to concretely connect several salient points made during the course of the Kwame Kilpatrick federal corruption trial.
Miller has pleaded guilty to violation of a federally funded program and tax evasion. His potential prison sentence is capped at 10 years but he could get less than that for his co-operation in this case.
A fidgety and uncomfortable Kilpatrick listened to his former close friend testify. The star witness has longtime ties to the former mayor. They met in 9th grade English class at Cass Tech and Kilpatrick was Miller's best man at his wedding. The witness held an influential position in the former Detroit mayor's administration in his positions as both Chief Administrative Officer and Chief Information Officer for the city.
Miller testified that he was part of the leadership team that helped Kilpatrick get elected in his two mayoral campaigns. The witness told the court that while some of the influential leadership team was officially part of the administration, others were not. Besides Miller, the mayoral influencers included former Kilpatrick Chief of Staff Christine Beatty, media consultant Bob Berg, former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Conrad Mallett, former emergency financial manager of Highland Park Art Blackwell, Kilpatrick's father and co-defendant Bernard Kilpatrick and Kilpatrick's sister Ayanna Kilpatrick.
U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow questioned Miller about several issues which had been raised earlier in the trial including how the non-profit Kilpatrick Civic Fund paid for political pollsters, group yoga sessions and a family spa resort vacation in California.
The prosecutor asked Miller about polling research conducted in 2001 by the firm Lake Snell Perry & Associates which was paid by the Kilpatrick Civic Fund. Earlier in the trial, Kilpatrick's lawyer Jim Thomas had contended that the Civic Fund was used legally by using the poll surveys to look into issues that were important to Detroit's voters including the creation of public parks, community improvements, and youth-directed initiatives.
Miller, however, testified that the gathering of this information was solely to determine the strength of Kilpatrick's position at becoming mayor and was not meant to be shared with the community as a whole but was exclusive to the Kilpatrick mayoral leadership team. The witness told the court that they did not share the results of focus groups with opponents. Miller reiterated that the poll research was meant for internal use and to be used as the platform for Kilpatrick's campaign.
Chutkow also asked Miller about homeless shelter operator Jon Rutherford's involvement with Kilpatrick and his various contributions to Kilpatrick-affiliated Political Action Committees (PACs), to Kilpatrick's mayoral campaign and to the Kilpatrick Civic Fund. The witness addressed the controversy that was set off by an article from August 29th 2001. The piece, entitled "Kilpatrick Took Donation, Now Questions Propriety", revealed that then-state representative Kilpatrick solicited a $50,000 contribution in 2000 from Rutherford to the Civic Fund.
Miller testified that the aforementioned "leadership" team met to discuss how to handle the ensuing scandal. The witness said the decided strategy was to say that no money from Civic Fund was used in the mayoral campaign.
Miller also told the court that he, Mallett, Berg, Beatty and Blackwell helped prepare Kilpatrick for his televised debate against Gil Hill in 2001. For the second time in the trial, jurors listened to a clip of a young, defiant Kilpatrick declaring, "We haven't used one penny, not one penny of the Civic Fund in this campaign because it's not allowed by law." Miller testified that the "not one penny" statement had been prepared collectively and that ultimately, it was not true.
Then there was the damage control the leadership team had to run when a reporter made public that the Civic Fund helped foot the bill of $8,605 for the Kilpatrick family's stay at the posh LaCosta Resort and Spa in June 2006.
"Basically we had to come up with a story as to why this check was used for the spa," said Miller.
The witness said that Kilpatrick told them that he stayed at the resort as part of a fund-raising trip for the Civic Fund.
Then Miller talked about bribes and kickbacks. He told the court that he met Detroit businessman Karl Kado during the 2001 mayoral campaign. The witness said that he was told by Kilpatrick to pick up to pick up $10,000 in cash from Kado to go towards the Kilpatrick campaign. Miller admitted that it was his understanding that they weren't supposed to take cash for the campaign, that donations had to be made by checks or money orders.
The witness testified that on two occasions he personally accepted $10,000 in cash from Kado whose electrical and cleaning contracts he supervised at Cobo Hall. Given his supervisory role, Miller acknowledged that it wasn't right to take the money but he did it anyways.
Also, on one or two occasions, Miller said he took money from Kado for Kilpatrick. Per the witness's testimony, he was told by Kilpatrick to go to Kado's office to pick up the money. Though he never counted the sum, Miller testified "it was a lot of money. Five to ten thousand."
Miller also told how he got kickbacks after helping real estate brokers Mark Talley and Tim Cook land a huge leasing deal with the city. The realtors were affiliated with the commercial real estate firm Jones Lang Lasalle. As part of the agreement, the realtors accepted to split their commissions three ways with Miller. The witness approached Kilpatrick on behalf of Jones Lang Lasalle and told him that the lucrative deal "could be good for us. Financially we could benefit from it." When Jones Lang Lasalle got their contract, Miller split half of what he was paid with Kilpatrick.
Chutkow asked what Kilpatrick would do when Miller brought him the cash.
"He would take it," replied Miller.
Miller also talked about co-defendant Bobby Ferguson's unparalleled access to Kilpatrick and his administration. Despite not being an official part of the mayor's administration, the contractor had his own ID badge for access to the employee entrance and the back elevator to the 11th floor. He also occasionally parked in spots reserved for appointed city officials. Miller told the court that Ferguson would not hesitate to interrupt ongoing cabinet meetings in the conference room and that the former mayor would step out to see his friend. According to the witness, Kilpatrick also made clear to certain administration officials including himself and Beatty that any possible business opportunities should be steered Ferguson's way.
Miller said that along the way, he lost his sway of influence with the mayor and in the end, Ferguson wielded more power with him. Starting around 2004, Miller said he and Kilpatrick developed stylistic differences in approaching city business.
"I would best characterize it as the working relationship came under strain from various initiatives and outside influences," explained Miller.
The government introduced close to a dozen text exchanges about meetings that were organized at Bernard Kilpatrick's condominium involving Bernard, Miller, Ferguson and Kwame. Miller told how these meetings, which typically occurred at night, involved actual agendas for items to be discussed including mutually-beneficial business opportunities, political strategies and community interests.
Miller finished by describing Kilpatrick's increasing paranoia about being spied on by federal agents. The witness said that 11th floor was swept for listening devices a few times, with particular emphasis on the mayor's office and the "barber room." He said that Kilpatrick started telling his inner circle to be careful about communicating over the telephone. He also described that sometimes when he was alone with Kilpatrick in either the mayor's office or in the basement of the Manoogian Mansion, Kilpatrick would turn up music loudly to muffle their conversations.
It seems Ferguson and Kilpatrick were sure they were being spied on and decided to do something about it.
In an exchange from May 2004, Ferguson texted Kilpatrick that they needed to find a "private investigator to find out who is doing what to us and what is who doing...." After Kilpatrick agreed they should get an outsider, Ferguson replied "so who would be in charge of starting this up this is the second time me and you has both said this should be done.... Chris and Derrick shouldn't know a damn thing about it. I will explain why later... " "Chris" is a reference to Christine Beatty and "Derrick" is the witness.
Miller's direct testimony will continue Tuesday morning at 9AM.
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