DETROIT - Jurors in the Kwame Kilpatrick federal corruption trial Tuesday heard star witness and former Kilpatrick confidant Derrick Miller testify how the flow of contractual business going Bobby Ferguson's way was so great that even the former Detroit mayor's sister got sick of it.
It was the second day on the stand for Miller who has already cut a deal with the government. The witness, also known by the nickname "Zeke", 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 co-operation in this case.
From the outset, testified Miller, Kilpatrick identified areas that could possibly generate business for Ferguson. Amongst those was the Detroit Building Authority (DBA). The former mayor appointed his relative, Ayanna Benson, as the head of the DBA and former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty sat as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the DBA which also included former Chief Administrative Officer Miller. The witness said that Kilpatrick made clear to him and Beatty that DBA contracts should be steered Ferguson's way.
Miller told the court that he was approached at various times by several Detroit contractors who complained that they feared their business with the city was drying up as a result of bad blood with Ferguson.
John Adamo of Detroit-based Adamo Group was one of the the businessmen who contacted Miller. Adamo indicated to Miller that he was having a tough time getting demolition business in the city and he worried that his poor relationship with Ferguson might be the reason. Miller addressed the issue with both Kilpatrick and Miller. Ferguson dismissed Adamo's concerns by saying their bad blood had to do with their competing businesses.
On July 21, 2004, Ferguson texted Kilpatrick warning him that "Zeke" would come to him to discuss Adamo.
Ferguson wrote, "Adamo Demolition. Zeke will be coming to you about helping them but it's not cool. I don't trust them and they lost, that's the bottom line. Everyone bidded and they lost."
Adamo was not alone in believing that Ferguson was interfering with their work flow. Miller testified that Detroit demolition contractor Michael Farrow and general contractor Odell Jones III of Jomar also complained to him that they felt their businesses were suffering because of Ferguson's influence. The witness went on to recount how City Council received numerous complaints about demolition work in terms of certain contractors exceeding their contractual limits. And Ferguson was pinpointed as one such contractor who was getting more than his fair share of work in the city.
And when companies didn't get the hint about hiring on Ferguson, Miller testified that Kilpatrick wasn't above either holding or killing contracts.
The star witness talked about a $50 million Inland Waters Pollution Control contract with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). Miller said that the contract was paused to allow him to contact the powers-that-be at Inland Waters to suggest that Ferguson be taken on as a sub-contractor despite their already having a team in place. Once Ferguson was hired, the contract with Inland was approved.
In the fall of 2005, there arose the question of an amendment to a sinkhole project in Sterling Heights. Inland's request for the amendment was delayed, explained Miller, because Ferguson felt he was owed money by them. Miller discussed the situation with the mayor who said the amendment to the sinkhole project would not be processed until Ferguson was paid. Miller was told by executives at Inland that Ferguson had in fact been paid but he was seeking additional remuneration for work that had not been performed. Ultimately, Inland paid Ferguson and the amendment was approved by Kilpatrick's Special Administrative Order in December 2005.
There was also the $73 million Baby Creek project, contract 748, in 2003. Detroit-based Walbridge Aldinger was a lead contender for the contract as was Chicago-headquartered Walsh Construction. When Miller informed Kilpatrick about Ferguson's interest in the project, the former mayor directed him to speak with then Walbridge executive Bernard Parker about it. After some behind the scenes texting between Miller and Ferguson about Baby Creek, Walbridge Aldinger drew up a handwritten agreement with Ferguson allotting him $12.73 million worth of work if they got the contract. On April 8 2003, Kilpatrick again used his powers as Special Administrator to approve the awarding of water contract 748 to Walbridge.
Lakeshore Engineering learned the hard way the consequences of not wanting to deal with Ferguson. Miller testified that initially Lakeshore had been awarded a $10 million water contract. But after Lakeshore's tense dealings with Ferguson, DWSD director Victor Mercado held the contract. Lakeshore executive Tom Hardiman asked to meet with Miller to see what the problem was.
On June 10th 2003, Miller received the following text from a mayoral assistant: "Derrick can you call me. The mayor wants you to handle the meeting with Thomas Hardiman today at 4:30PM. He wants you to listen and be vague."
Miller said he met with Hardiman who voiced his concerns about contract 1361 and Lakeshore's negative relationship with Ferguson.
"I listened and was vague," said Miller about how he followed Kilpatrick's instructions in his meeting with Hardiman.
When Miller told Ferguson about the Hardiman meeting, he said the contractor's response was basically "screw them." Kilpatrick then told Miller that he should convey to Mercado that the contract would not be awarded to Lakeshore.
Miller said that DWSD's Victor Mercado just got plain tired of dealing with Ferguson. In 2007, around the time that Miller was leaving city government, he said he and Mercado had a very frank discussion where the water director told him that battling Ferguson was the worst part of his job and he was at his wits' end.
"He was getting tired with the job. He was really not in a comfortable place anymore," says Miller.
Even Kilpatrick's sister complained about Ferguson getting so much business. Ayanna Kilpatrick owned her own consulting business "AKTION" and worked to get her clients projects with the city. In a June 8th 2004 text exchange with mayoral appointee Mike Tardiff, Ayanna questioned why he had not contacted her clients regarding a waste hauling contract. Tardiff texted: "We may have to talk about this....Bobby may want to do the same thing..." To which an irritated Ayanna replied: "Here we go with that bull*h*t again. I'll talk to the mayor and Derrick about this..."
Later that day, an exasperated Ayanna texted Miller "Here we go with this Bobby bull again! Tardiff cancelled meeting with my guys again. Just stated that Bobby wants to do the same thing (waste hauling).... Great if its room for him, terrible if he's holding us up! Can we make $ too?" Miller said that it was clear that Ayanna felt that if there was a project Ferguson was interested in, her clients didn't stand a chance.
Kilpatrick did look out for his father's interests, however. For the first time in this trial, Jim Rosendall's Synagro Technologies was mentioned due to the company's interest in securing a billion dollar waste contract with the DWSD. The contract involved having Synagro turn water waste sludge into fertilizer to use as a by-product. At Kilpatrick's instruction, Miller worked to facilitate a meeting between Bernard Kilpatrick and Rosendall. Synagro ultimately hired Bernard to act as a consutant to help with political advocacy and community support aspects of the lucrative project.
There will be no session on Wednesday. Court resumes Thursday morning at 9AM.
Derrick Miller, a longtime friend and former aide to Kwame Kilpatrick, pleaded guilty to corruption and tax offenses.