For Kwame, Friends, Supporters and Aides Were Potential ATMs

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Back in 1989 when I was a reporter for The Detroit News I covered a federal trial involving Detroit 36th District Court Judge Leon Jenkins, who was accused of taking bribes to fix traffic tickets.

The FBI had him on video taking cash bribes from Sam Dickow, who owned a party store behind the Fox Theater. Dickow was cooperating with feds and let them install cameras in his store.

Miraculously, Jenkins got off. I was shocked. So were the FBI agents and prosecutors. It seems as if the jury -- at least in part --  felt he was entrapped.

During his trial, Jenkins, an amiable guy, was bumping into a very attractive secretary who worked in the courthouse. A romance blossomed and before you know it he was sending out wedding invites that included this: “Cash Gifts Appreciated.” At the time, I thought: How tacky. Is there no shame for a guy accused of bribery?

Fast-forward to the same courthouse 24 years later.

Kwame Kilpatrick, the ex-mayor of Detroit, is on trial for bribery and corruption and income tax evasion. In an attempt to explain the origin of the $500,000-plus in cash he deposited in bank accounts while mayor -- and why his expenditures exceeded his city salary -- his attorney Jim Thomas has suggested he got loads of cash gifts from generous friends and supporters who attended his birthday and wedding parties. The government claims the money simply came from bribes and kickbacks.

On Friday, Thomas, in an effort to try and save his client from going to prison for a long time, showed how shameless Kilpatrick could be.

He showed jurors a 1995 wedding invitation with a similar phrase to the one Leon Jenkins used: “Cash Gifts Preferred.” Kilpatrick wasn’t mayor yet, but that pattern of shameless solicitation carried over into his reign as the city's top elected official. 

Thomas also mentioned cash gifts people may (and I emphasize may)  have given at Kwame’s 36th birthday at the Atheneum Hotel ballroom in Greekown and his 30th birthday at the Majestic Theatre where he had a “wishing well,” or receptacle for people to drop off cash gifts. Thomas never mentioned how much Kilpatrick got, leaving it up to the jury to imagine.

Many adults who have birthday parties these days put “no gifts please” on the invite. Apparently, those three words never were on Kilpatrick invitations.

As if the shameless solicitation of cash gifts at parties wasn’t enough, the defense on Friday called a former Kilpatrick aide, Kizzi Montgomery, who now works for Mayor Dave Bing. She told how members of the Kilpatrick administration were expected to donate cash for the big guy on Christmas and birthdays.

The money, collected by a Kilpatrick cousin, went toward buying the mayor gifts like a Rolex watch or a golf vacation.

Montgomery said she eventually donated $100 each time, but higher-ups were expected to give $500 or $1,000, depending on their stature in the administration. She said some complained.

What kind of boss shakes down his employees? What kind of friend solicits gifts at birthday parties -- or has others do it for him? 

Answer: A very shameless one, a narcissist who cared far too much about himself, and far too little for the people who worked for him and those who voted him into office.

In Kilpatrick’s eyes, it seemed as if everyone was a potential ATM machine.

And we’re just talking about friends, supporters and aides. Testimony in trial has shown, as mayor, he took free plane rides, gifts, sporting event tickets and food from business people who felt the need to do so to keep, or land new city contracts.

Soon, Kilpatrick will ask jurors for something far more valuable than cash gifts.

He’ll ask for freedom to live with his wife and children in Texas.

After sitting their for five months, hearing about allegations of bribes and kickbacks, we’ll see how charitable jurors feel.

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