Being a Prosecution Witness in Kwame Trial Can Be Like Running for President
Update: 9:40 a.m. Thursday: Kwame Kilpatrick's chief fundraiser Emma Bell has taken the stand as a prosecution witness. So far, no fireworks.
Being a prosecution witness can sometimes be a lot like running for president. The other side digs up all the dirt it can and tries casting the person in the worst of light.
A the Kwame Kilpatrick corruption trial on Wednesday, Emma Bell, Kilpatrick’s chief fundraiser, had her reputation trashed -- presidential style.
Gambler. Heavy drinker. Liar. Tax cheat. Convicted felon.
That’s the way Kilpatrick’s defense attorney James Thomas (pictured to the right) characterized Bell, rather effectively, through the questioning of an IRS agent.
The character assassination was meant to try and discredit Bell, 66, even before she takes a step into the federal courtroom on the 8th floor today and tells jurors how she raised funds for Kilpatrick and split donations with him that were over $5,000.
In all, she raised more than $900,000 from 2003-2008 from funds including Kilpatrick for Mayor, Kilpatrick Inaugural Committee, the Next Vision and the Kilpatrick Civic Fund.
Her cooperation, IRS agent Ron Sauer admitted in court on Wednesday, could earn her a break in her pending prison sentence for tax evasion if she cooperates with the government. Under federal sentencing guidelines, she could get 18 to 24 months in prison, but if she cooperates, that could easily be cut in half. The feds are rather skilled at squeezing folks with such incentives.
The feds are hoping to use Bell to explain how Kilpatrick got a lot of his unexplained cash. While mayor, from 2002 to 2008, Kilpatrick deposited about $530,000 in cash in his bank account -- money beyond his paycheck. He also used $282,000 in cash to pay credit card bills.
Kilpatrick is on trial along with his dad Bernard Kilpatrick, his close friend Bobby Ferguson, a contractor, and Victor Mercado, the ex-head of the city’s water department.
The defense worked hard to discredit her.
Under cross examination today, Agent Sauer admitted that Bell lied at first to investigators when she said she only split donations with Kilpatrick that exceeded $25,000. She later said they split anything over $5,000.
So she lied, Thomas asked? The agent conceded she had.
The agent said she would hide money “in her bra or purse” when delivering to Kilpatrick. Thomas got the agent to admit that no one ever saw her delivery money to Kilpatrick.
Thomas went over Bell’s gambling losses at the Greektown Casino, hoping to raise some doubts about her story that she shared donations with Kilpatrick and instead kept some funds to cover losses.
In 2007, for instance Greektown Casino records showed that she lost $56,325. In 2006, she lost $39,278 and in 2008 she dropped $82,876. Evidence in court showed some years she personally earned good money from the fundraising; $256,000 in 2006, for example, and $134,325 in 2004.
Trying to undermine the government's allegations that Bell gave donations to Kilpatrick, Thomas read the agent’s testimony in the grand jury in 2010 in which he said he was not able to directly link the donations Bell got to deposits Kilpatrick made.
Thomas also asked if Bell was an alcoholic.
The agent said Bell acknowledged having a “drinking problem.”
The government will do its best in questioning to make her sound credible despite all the presidential-like character attacks and the disclosure that she’s likely to get a break in her prison sentence for testifying.
When it comes to motive for testifying, the government will likely try to neutralize that by getting her to say on the stand on Thursday what the agent testified to on Wednesday about Bell and her relationship with Kilpatrick:
“She considered him like a son.”