Kwame Kilpatrick mother, wife, three sons and sister were on hand to watch his lawyer deliver closing arguments on Tuesday in the public corruption trial in U.S. District Court.
It was the first time they showed up during the five-month court proceedings, and Kilpatrick’s attorney Jim Thomas capitalized on that. In the final moments of his closing arguments, he told jurors:
“I’m going to ask you for not guilty on all counts. Let Mr. Kilpatrick go home to his wife and kids.” Kilpatrick’s family resides in Texas.
In his 2 1/2-hour summation, Thomas went after three of the government’s star witnesses -- Derrick Miller, Emma Bell and Karl Kado -- saying they were “bought and paid for” and claiming each was wiling to lie to get deals with the government in their own criminal cases.
“These are witnesses who got in trouble on their own, totally independent of Kwame Kilpatrick,” Thomas said.
He said they agreed to cooperate with the feds in “hope of freedom and the hope they can trade their troubles for Mr. Kilpatrick.”
Kilpatrick is on trial along with his dad, Bernard, and his close friend Bobby Ferguson, a city contractor. The government contends the trio was part of a City hall-based criminal enterprise while Kilpatrick was mayor from 2002-08.
In the afternoon, Bernard Kilpatrick's lawyer John Shea began delivering closing arguments but was cut off after two jurors, who had been feeling ill, had to run to the bathroom. The judge ended court for the day, which could easily push the start of jury deliberations off until at least Friday. There is no court slated for Wednesday.
During the morning closing argument, Thomas also tried undermining the government’s contention that city vendors operated in a “climate of fear” and felt they had to provide bribes and kickbacks to get contracts. The government also has alleged that some contractors had to hire Bobby Ferguson as a subcontractor on projects or lose out on a contract.
Thomas zeroed in om Grosse Pointe Farms businessman Tony Soave, who testified that he provided Kilpatrick with about $400,000 in free private jet flights to maintain access to city business. He said he also bought a $6,000 Cartier watch for Kilpatrick’s dad.
“A guy worth $2.5 billion comes in and says he had a fear of losing money,” Thomas told jurors. “One of the biggest contractors in the city. That just, well, doesn’t make sense to me.”
Thomas also tried to deflect government allegations that Kilpatrick, as part of a criminal conspiracy, tried to funnel one contract after another to Ferguson.
He said Kilpatrick often turned to Ferguson because he knew he could get projects done and create jobs for Detroiters.
He also addressed allegations that Kilpatrick illegally spent money from the Kilpatrick Civic Fund, a nonprofit set up to benefit the community.
Thomas conceded that some expenditures were improper, such as yoga lessons and golf clubs, but said those only accounted for a small fraction of the $1.7 million the fund raised.
Thomas said Kilpatrick wrote a check for $13,027 to reimburse the fund. He conceded it was done in 2009 when the feds were snooping around already, but it was done nonetheless.
Thomas sharpened his fangs when it came to the three key government witnesses. He also tried undercutting some lesser government witnesses.
He talked about Emma Bell, Kilpatrick’s chief fundraiser, who testified that she gave Kilpatrick about $250,000 in kickbacks from fundraising. The government claims bribes helped Kilpatrick spend far more than he earned from his salary as mayor.
Thomas described Bell as a degenerate gambler who lost big and cried on the stand to generate sympathy. He said her claims that she delivered money to Kilpatrick were not credible. Thomas suggested she kept that money to fuel her gambling habit.
He said Bell testified and lied to save herself from going to prison after the feds discovered she had failed to file taxes for 20 years. She has pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.
Thomas told the jurors not to be fooled by her kind, motherly demeanor.
“She could cry a tear and then freeze me into a block of ice with a stare,” Thomas said. “She could bully people, sweet talk them and then beat them up. She is not a person that is credible.”
He also went after Derrick Miller, who had been friends with Kilpatrick since ninth grade and had worked for him in Lansing when Kilpatrick was a state lawmaker. He later went to work for Kilpatrick in city hall in the inner circle.
Miller claimed he gave repeated kickbacks on real estate deals to the mayor and delivered a $10,000 bribe from a restaurant owner to Kilpatrick in 2007 in the bathroom of Asian Village, a now-defunct restaurant.
He pointed out that Miller pleaded guilty to taking bribes and kickbacks, and that he didn't deserve to be believed. He said Miller repeatedly lied to the FBI, and created phony documents that were submitted to a grand jury to try and save his skin.
But only after he was indicted did he raise the allegations involving Kilpatrick, Thomas said. Miller has pleaded guilty to taking bribes, and agreed to cooperate with the feds. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
"Derrick Miller was probably the craftiest witness of all the witnesses you've seen," Thomas said. "He can look you in the eye and lie. "
'You have the right to judge'
“You have the right to judge a man’s credibility,” Thomas said. “And judge what he’s done in the past.”
And he also went after Karl Kado, who had contracts for maintenance and electrical work. Kado alleged that he bribed Kilpatrick. However, Thomas raised the point that Kado wrote the feds at one point during the investigation and said he was confused about some facts and had some signs of dementia.
“I know Karl Kado’s old but he’s not that old,” Thomas said. “This man is a confused person.”
Earlier in his closing, Thomas said:
"Kwame Kilpatrick is a human being. He is a father. He's a husband. He's a son. He's a man, and he deserves your consideration."
About a half hour before court started, Kilpatrick posted a photo of his family on Facebook with this comment.
“Victory Day! Blessed to have my Squad with me. Boots laced, and ready to roll. :-) God is Good! #blessedandhighlyfavored."
Time will tell whether it is in fact Victory Day.
Later in the afternoon, Bernard Kilpatrick's attorney John Shea began his closing arguments by saying that his client, who was a former Wayne County Commissioner and former chief of staff for Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara, was a connected consultant, and there was nothing wrong with that.
"It's not illegal for a person to provide consulting services for a client, even if the person providing consulting services is the mayor’s father," Shea said.
Court abruptly ended when the jurors ran to the bathroom during Shea's closing.
She will resume his closings on Thursday. Also on Thursday, Gerald Evelyn, Bobby Ferguson's attorney, is expected to deliver closings. The government could have time to deliver its rebuttal.