DETROIT — The father of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick wasn't an extortionist but a sharp-elbowed consultant who did legitimate work for people who wanted business with the city, his attorney said Thursday during final arguments in the father-son corruption trial.
Witnesses said Bernard Kilpatrick leaned on them for cash because Kwame Kilpatrick had the power to kill or approve deals. But defense lawyer John Shea said there's evidence to show the 71-year-old was engaged in the nitty-gritty details of public contracts for his clients.
"There's nothing wrong with a consultant ... calling up the mayor and asking for a meeting," Shea told the jury. "Was it easier for Bernard Kilpatrick to get a meeting with his son? Absolutely. Maybe it's unfair but it's not illegal." The Kilpatricks and a third defendant, Bobby Ferguson, are charged with conspiring to enrich themselves through extortion, bribery and rigged contracts. The Kilpatricks are also charged with tax crimes.
Shea played the government's secretly recorded conversations of Bernard Kilpatrick and a convention hall contractor discussing unpaid bills to the city. Shea said the elder Kilpatrick would only get paid if the contractor did.
The attorney also tried to soften the impact of a secret recording of Bernard Kilpatrick threatening to "blow up" a major sludge-hauling deal unless a company representative didn't pay him. Shea said it was just angry talk.
Earlier in the trial, the government showed that Bernard Kilpatrick deposited $605,000 in cash in bank accounts over a seven-year period. Agents said Kwame Kilpatrick spent $840,000 more than his total salary, which exceeded $600,000 during his years in office.
"He's not guilty of these charges," Shea said of the elder Kilpatrick. "That's what you're here to decide, not whether he's a saint. Canonization is not part of your deliberations." After lunch, Ferguson's attorney, Gerald Evelyn, quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and held the book "Profiles in Courage" as he made an emotional final pitch on behalf of his client. He said it's unbelievable that some of the Detroit-area's largest construction companies took on Ferguson as a subcontractor because they were intimidated by Kwame Kilpatrick, as alleged by the government.
"This man earned every dime, paid taxes," Evelyn said, pointing to Ferguson. "He bought equipment. He paid employees. He paid bonds and insurance. He had a real company.
"You don't do that if you're cheating. You do that if you're working," the attorney told jurors. "They're trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Don't let that happen." The jury will get the case Friday after prosecutors give a final rebuttal. It's not known if deliberations will start Friday or Tuesday. Monday is a public holiday.
Kilpatrick resigned as mayor in 2008 in another scandal. He pleaded guilty to obstructing justice by lying in a civil case about whether he had had sex with a top aide. He subsequently served 14 months in prison for violating his probation in that case.