Witnesses against ex-Detroit mayor shaky, lawyer argues

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 12, 2013 5:43 PM
Witnesses against ex-Detroit mayor shaky, lawyer argues

By Maureen McDonald

DETROIT (Reuters) - A lawyer for former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on Tuesday questioned the credibility of government witnesses in the case, saying cash attributed to bribes and kickbacks by prosecutors came in part from gifts, and urging jurors to acquit him of public corruption charges.

Kilpatrick, who voters hoped in 2001 could reverse decades of decline when they elected him the youngest mayor in Detroit history at age 31, faces an array of charges from racketeering conspiracy to bribery, extortion, mail fraud and tax charges.

James C. Thomas said Kilpatrick served a "higher purpose," and received cash gifts because people believed in the job he was doing as mayor.

"Let Mr. Kilpatrick go home with his wife and kids," Thomas told jurors in closing arguments seeking an acquittal on all counts in the five-month-long federal trial.

As for witnesses, Thomas said, a former aide who testified that he passed Kilpatrick money in a restaurant bathroom was a felon seeking a reduced sentence, and "not a trustworthy guy."

A second man who testified to a transaction with the mayor was "demented," , Thomas said, adding that a former Kilpatrick fundraiser who said she turned over part of her commissions to the mayor over a period of several years, had huge gambling debts.

Prosecutors have accused Kilpatrick, who served as mayor of the beleaguered city from 2002 until 2008, of conspiring with construction company owner and friend Bobby Ferguson as well as his father Bernard Kilpatrick in a more than decade-long criminal enterprise.

Kilpatrick is accused of forcing contractors to include Ferguson and/or Bernard Kilpatrick in many city projects, at times holding up contracts to apply leverage. The elder Kilpatrick ran a consulting business during his son's tenure as mayor.

Thomas argued, however, that there were good reasons for holding up some contracts, including one where the low bidder proved to not be based in Detroit.

On Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta said such deals increased the cost to city taxpayers.

Prosecutors have said the former mayor personally profited from the deals and have referred to bank statements that showed a steady cash flow into his account starting in 2002, the year he became mayor, and continuing until he resigned in 2008.

Thomas said Kilpatrick received generous cash gifts for his birthday and Christmas during that period.

Kilpatrick also has been accused of using money donated to the nonprofit Kilpatrick Civic Fund to support community projects for personal expenses such as golf clubs, yoga, a crisis manager to support his image and surveillance equipment.

Prosecutors presented testimony from dozens of witnesses, plus text messages, invoices, bank records and surveillance videos in the trial before U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds. Kilpatrick faces 30 counts, Ferguson 11 and Bernard Kilpatrick four.

Lawyers for Bernard Kilpatrick are expected to continue closing arguments on Thursday, followed by Ferguson's lawyers. Prosecutors will have the last word before the jury deliberates.

Kilpatrick stepped down as mayor in 2008 under a plea agreement in a separate case in which he admitted to lying under oath during a lawsuit brought by two fired police officers. The charges to which he pleaded guilty showed Kilpatrick had lied to conceal cellphone text messages that detailed an affair with a woman who was his chief of staff.

Detroit's population has been shrinking for decades, totaled just over 700,000 residents in 2011, compared with more than 1.8 million in 1950. After years of severe budget deficits, the state has been reviewing the city's finances and is considering appointing an emergency manager.

(Editing by David Bailey, desking by G Crosse)