Former Wayne County official convicted in fraud case appears on Kilpatrick trial witness list

Former Wayne County official Wilbourne Kelley says feds should pass on him as witness in Kilpatrick trial, but he will speak if called to stand

By Kevin Dietz - Reporter


His name is Wilbourne Kelley, and if you recognize it there is a reason.

Kelley and his wife are the only people to be convicted in the late Ed McNamara Wayne County administration. Kelley was sent to prison after refusing to snitch on his boss.

Now, with his life back on track, he is stunned to find his name on the witness list for former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's federal trial.

Kelley's name pops up in the news when the history of Wayne County corruption is reported. But you wouldn't recognize him now. Today, Kelley is a maintenance supervisor at the renovated Double Tree hotel in Detroit. He works quietly with a smile on his face. For the life of him, he cannot understand why, at 76 years old, he and his wife's name are still dragged through the mud years after doing his time.

Kwame Kilpatrick federal trial special section

"I served that time for that, so I know ... right now, my wife and I are just trying to get on with our lives," Kelley said. "I'm just trying to live out the rest of my days in an honorable manner."

Kelley says there is so much more to him than the footnote of being the only person convicted in McNamara's administration. He was a standout at West Point. A Vietnam War hero. He fought the Tet Offensive in 1968 where he took a bullet to the leg. His collection of medals includes a bronze star, a Legion of Merit and a Purple Heart.

"I came back highly-decorated from Vietnam. So, when I continue to see them say 'ex felon' it demeans all that I've done with my life," he said.

Kelley did not plead guilty to charges that he took bribes for contracts while working for Wayne County because he doesn't think he is. A jury found him guilty.

"He befriended me and my wife. Had us come meet his family and all that sort of thing. The next thing I know he was offering to do things for us," Kelley said.

Kelley says he thought it was just a good friend helping him with free work on his house, but then he came looking for a payback: Contract for work at the airport.

"And then, subsequently, about five or six months later he had the contractor who made the repairs submit a bid to me," Kelly said.

He accepted the jury's decision. He served three years in prison. He says he would have only gotten probation if he gave up information on his boss, then Wayne County executive McNamara.

"It wasn't anything that I saw with my own eyes," Kelley said.

Kelley said it wasn't a refusal to snitch, as was reported, but that he did not have any personal proof of wrongdoing.

"I didn't really have anything to give them and, you know, my lawyer says, 'Oh, you know we have all kinds of good stuff,' but you know that wasn't the case at all," he said.

Kelley tries to move on, but Kilpatrick trial won't let him

Today, Kelley and his wife go to church services on a regular basis and help less fortunate people in the congregation.

"When I came back (from prison) I said, 'Well, down in prison you really are forced to get back in touch with your religious roots,'" he said.

Kelley knows he can't stop people from using his name only in connection with the old Wayne County investigation. He just wishes they would. Now, there is a new twist that is sure to keep the negative footnote at the forefront. Kelley just found out he is on the witness list for Kilpatrick's trial.

"I have no idea why I'm on that list because I have no knowledge of what they were doing in the mayor's office or the city of Detroit," he said.

It turns out Kelley was not the only guy investigated in the McNamara administration. Bernard Kilpatrick, Kwame's father, held a top post, too. He was investigated but never charged. Kelley thinks he may be called to give up old secrets. However, he says, he has no personal knowledge of corruption.

"I was over on the other side with the public service. So, we never interacted at all on any of that kind of business," Kelley said.

As for Kwame Kilpatrick, Kelley knew him from the time he was a teenager. However, he only had one questionable interaction with the former Detroit mayor. Kelley says he refused Kwame Kilpatrick's endorsement of Bobby Ferguson for school renovation work.

"I did talk to Kwame ... that was the end of that," he said.

Kelley thinks the feds would be better off to pass on him as a witness. But if they call him to the stand he will speak truthfully. Then, he will get back to his work at the hotel where he hopes to blend in simply as Bill.

Kelley hopes once Kilpatrick's trial is over, people will think of him for his military service, community service and church service -- not for the one big mistake in his nearly 80-year life.

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