Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Tuesday

February 12, 2013

Feds wrap up case against Kilpatrick

DETROIT — Kwame Kilpatrick turned Detroit's City Hall into a "private profit machine" by rigging contracts, demanding bribes and even stealing money meant for the needy, a prosecutor said during closing arguments Monday in the corruption trial.

Kilpatrick spent $840,000 more than he earned as Detroit's mayor from 2002 until 2008, Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Michael Bullotta told jurors as he summed up evidence presented by the government over the past five months.

As Bullotta spoke, jurors saw images of checks documenting the alleged corruption as well as damaging text messages between Kilpatrick and a co-defendant, Bobby Ferguson, whose construction company landed contracts worth millions during the Kilpatrick years.

"They turned the mayor's office into Kilpatrick Incorporated, a private profit machine," the prosecutor said.

"No deal without me — that was their mantra, those were their words, that was their scheme," Bullotta said. "They controlled city contracts, not for the good of the people but to line their own pockets." Kilpatrick, 42, is charged with 30 crimes, including bribery, racketeering conspiracy, extortion and tax violations. He has denied wrongdoing, and his attorney, James Thomas, has explained that people regularly gave Kilpatrick cash for his birthday or to mark other milestones.

Defense attorneys were to deliver their closing arguments Tuesday and Thursday. No session was scheduled for Wednesday because a juror has a conflict.

Kilpatrick, a Democrat, was a target of law enforcement even before he was forced to resign in 2008 amid a different scandal involving steamy text messages with his chief of staff, with whom he was having an extramarital affair.

The federal case is much deeper, stretching back to when Kilpatrick was a state legislator, before he was elected mayor in 2001. His 71-year-old father, Bernard Kilpatrick, and Ferguson are also on trial as part of the alleged racketeering conspiracy.

Kwame Kilpatrick took notes as the prosecutor spoke. He occasionally offered hushed words to his lawyer but mostly leaned back and rested his chin in his hand.

Bullotta focused on three key areas: $84 million in contracts given to Ferguson, Kilpatrick's use of a nonprofit fund for the needy called the Civic Fund, and bribes Kilpatrick allegedly demanded from businesses that wanted to keep or get city work.

He didn't remind jurors about everything that emerged at trial. Kilpatrick, sometimes accompanied by family, took 20 round-trip flights to destinations that included the Bahamas, Florida, New York and Texas. The travel on private planes was worth $389,000, but Kilpatrick never paid a dime to wealthy businessman Tony Soave.

Bullotta told jurors to recall that Kilpatrick created the Civic Fund to help Detroit residents in distress. Instead, he said Kilpatrick looted it to buy golf clubs, send his sons to camp, take yoga classes and travel. Ferguson once donated $75,000 to the fund, which the prosecutor said was his way of "sharing the spoils" from rigged water department contracts approved by the "Kilpatrick enterprise." "Kwame Kilpatrick wanted money. He wanted power. He was not interested in responsibility. ... He thought the rules did not apply to him," Bullotta said.

After resigning in 2008, Kilpatrick 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.

Voters booted his mother, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, from Congress in 2010, partly because of a negative perception of her due to her son's troubles.

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