DETROIT – A rapt courtroom was left hanging Tuesday morning at the Kwame Kilpatrick federal corruption trial when what seemed like the government's attempt to suggest a defense exhibit had been doctored was abruptly stopped short.
It was at the end of an abbreviated session in Judge Nancy Edmunds's courtroom that US Attorney Mark Chutkow began asking EPA Agent Carol Paszkiewicz about a document that the defense had introduced into evidence in December 2012. The exhibit in question was an internal work log sheet for Ferguson Enterprises that stated the company had showed up on site in Sterling Heights that day after an August 22nd 2004 sewer collapse. The defense had grilled the federal agent in December using the document as proof that contractor Bobby Ferguson and former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick had no need to do behind the scenes plotting to get Ferguson part of the sinkhole contract as he was already onsite. Earlier in the trial, the prosecution had introduced text exchanges between the pair that seemed to suggest otherwise.
In one dated September 1st 2004, Kilpatrick texted Ferguson: "You got to get with Victor on this Sterling Heights job. He said you were meeting him out here." Jurors heard testimony that "Victor" referred to Victor Mercado, then Director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) which would have been responsible for awarding the sinkhole contract. The text was sent out at 1:15PM. Paskiewicz testified today that Kilpatrick's agenda for that specific date showed him to be on the sinkhole site between 1:00 and 2:00PM. Later that same day, Ferguson texted back: "We need to meet on how I move in. I got a great idea sir. Holla in the am." The EPA agent said that her investigation which included interviews with a construction project manager for the site revealed that Ferguson only moved his equipment to the sinkhole location on September 14th 2004, two weeks after the aforementioned texts. Paszkiewicz said she hesitated when the defense quizzed her about the August 23rd Ferguson Enterprises work log because it was inconsistent with her research. However, it was only when the EPA agent left the stand and took a closer look at the defense exhibit that it began to raise red flags. The witness said that in her investigation she had seen many such type of records before and typically they all had sequential numerical identifiers. This defense exhibit appeared to be missing it. Also, there was the issue of where the date normally appeared versus where it was on this document.
But just as Paszkiewicz started to indicate where the date should be, the defense asked for a sidebar. After briefly convening at the judge's bench, Edmunds decided that the matter was more complicated than anticipated and would have to meet in her chambers to discuss it further. Thus, court broke a few minutes earlier than the scheduled noon ending.
Testimony of FBI Agent Robert Beeckman
Earlier in the morning, Chutkow had finished his questioning of FBI agent Robert Beeckman. Like Pazkiewicz, Beeckman is one of a handful of federal agents who have been recalled by the government to testify at various chapters in the trial. Yesterday, Beeckman testified about a series of text exchanges. Chutkow asked Beeckman to take a look at an exchange dated April 22nd 2004 between Ferguson and Kilpatrick. In it, Ferguson writes, "Baby Creek I told you I would call on you when I needed help. help, f***ing Victor, I don't need DWSD to sit on the bid opening." Just before, jurors had seen the minutes for a meeting that same day between Walbridge Aldinger and Ferguson Enterprises. The minutes documented Ferguson stating that neither DWSD or Detroit Recreation Department should attend the Baby Creek, water contract 748, bid opening. Chutkow introduced a summary of payments by Walbridge to Ferguson on Baby Creek totaling $13.5 million. Mike Rataj, one of Ferguson's defense lawyers, cross-examined Beeckman. The defense lawyer first addressed a June 17th 2003 text exchange introduced yesterday between Vincent Anwunah, then General Manager of the city Recreational Department, and Ferguson. Anwunah texts Ferguson: "They want Walbridge to collect $500,000 of this contract what do you think?" Ferguson's unambiguous response: "Hell no that's 5%. They are crazy. 2% f%^k them and Walbridge that's theft." Beeckman conceded that such a conversation would not be so unusual. But he disagreed when Rataj claimed that Walbridge wanted $500,000 for doing nothing on the Patton Park part of the Baby Creek contract. The FBI agent claimed that 5% was pretty much the standard fee for this type of contract because Walbridge managed it. Rataj said that out of the $13.5 million Ferguson Enterprises was awarded on Baby Creek, more than $10 million went to pay other sub-contractors. Beeckman agreed with this assessment. Rataj also brought up a letter which had been introduced by the government earlier in the trial dated October 1st 2003 in which Walbridge executive Brian Cruickshank stated that his company had been "strongly persuaded by highly placed city officials" to take on Ferguson despite his only being the 4th lowest bidder. The defense lawyer introduced a follow-up letter dated October 15th 2003 in which Cruickshank appeared to backtrack by telling Ferguson that he was actually hired because he was a qualified contractor. Beeckman testified that Walbridge executives, alarmed by Cruickshank's initial letter, had drafted a new letter to rectify the damage done. The FBI agent also pointed out that though Cruickshank's name was typed, the executive had never actually signed it. Rataj then showed an internal spreadsheet review by Walbridge which compared sub-contractor bids on Baby Creek. Ferguson's lawyer tried to get the federal agent to say that the lowest bid was made by Ferguson Enterprises. But Beeckman refused to comply stating that as the numbers for contractor WPM were not listed in the spreadsheet, the statement would have been inaccurate. When pressed by the defense lawyer to say that Ferguson Enterprises had not received sewer or site work on Baby Creek, the federal agent calmly replied that he knew only what Walbridge had promised the city it would give Ferguson. "I'm not interested in speculation Mr. Beeckman. You can't convict people on speculation," retorted Rataj. On redirect, Chutkow again brought up the internal Walbridge document comparing sub-contractor bids. He handed it to Beeckman to look over which Rataj had refused to do earlier. Beeckman said if you added Ferguson Enterprise's bids, they were 23% higher than WPM's making Ferguson the 4th lowest ranked bidder just as Cruickshank had claimed in his original letter.
Court resumes Wednesday at 9AM.
About the author
Alexandra Harland is a Princeton undergrad and has a masters degree in International affairs with Columbia. A Montreal native, she worked with the Daily Telegraph newspaper for a few years before transitioning to TV, when she worked at ABC News with Peter Jennings. Alexandra has also worked in newsrooms in both Detroit and Boston.