Day 9: Sweat and tears mark dramatic day

After his former fundraiser spent four hours testifying about delivering more than $286,000 in kickbacks, Kwame Kilaptrick was sweating through his three-piece suit and the fundraiser was crying.

Fundraiser Emma Bell delivered the most dramatic, and potentially damaging, testimony of the two-week-old trial.

In halting, occasionally combative testimony, she talked about how Kilpatrick demanded kickbacks from money donated to his mayoral campaign, charities and other groups.

Kilpatrick sat impassively through much of the testimony. But after nearly four hours, he rose from the defense table, revealing sweat stains under both armpits.

Bell, meanwhile, broke down in tears after leaving court.

“It’s not over,” she said.

Bell is the first of at least 11 government witnesses who have pleaded guilty to felonies in connection with the City Hall corruption probe and agreed to testify against Kilpatrick.

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Testimony from Kwame Kilpatrick’s fundraiser turned ugly Thursday when the former mayor’s lawyer pressed her over lies she told to investigators.

Kilpatrick lawyer James C. Thomas pressed Bell over a lie she told to IRS Special Agent Ron Sauer about kickbacks she allegedly paid to the former mayor.

“You said you didn’t want him to look petty,” Thomas told Bell.

“Did you say greedy or did you say petty?” Thomas continued. “You said petty. You know you said petty.”

“Why are you treating me like that?” Bell said.

She started to shuffle papers stacked on the witness stand.

“Please put those papers down,” Thomas said.

“You lied to Agent Sauer,” Thomas said. “You committed a federal crime. What did they do to you as a result of that crime? They didn’t do anything, did they? Nothing further.”

Bell pleaded guilty to two counts of tax evasion for her role in the corruption scandal. Under the plea deal, Bell agreed to cooperate against Kilpatrick and prosecutors will recommend she spend no more than 18 months in prison.

“If the prosecution is not happy with your testimony, they don’t have to recommend a reduction in your sentence,” Thomas told Bell. “You have to please them to get what you want, which is probation.”

“That’s an unfair statement,” Bell said. “That’s a very unfair statement.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta was up next.

“Why is that an unfair statement?” he asked Bell.

“If I sit up here and lie,” Bell said, “it’s worse.”

It was 2006.

Business titans and others crammed into a VIP mezzanine inside the International Marketplace for the “Splash of Red” party to celebrate Kwame Kilpatrick’s 36th birthday.

Don Barden

Casino mogul Don Barden was there. He grabbed a microphone.

“Come on y’all, let’s celebrate for this man,” the Detroit businessman implored the crowd.

Barden plopped $5,000 into a gift box and urged others to do the same, according to testimony Thursday.

The story came from Kilpatrick lawyer James C. Thomas, who mentioned the party to offer an explanation for the mayor’s mysterious source of cash.

Barden died in May 2011.

Thomas questioned Kilpatrick fundraiser Emma Bell about the party, which she attended.

“Do you remember other people putting money in the box?” Thomas asked.

“I remember people coming up and saying Happy Birthday,” Bell said.

“And putting money in the box?” the lawyer asked.

“A few,” Bell said.

“Did you see Don Barden solicit people to put money in the box?” Thomas asked.

“I could hear him,” Bell said.

“Did you hear him saying he put $5,000 in the box?” Thomas asked.

“Sometimes Don Barden would say things he didn’t do,” Bell said. “I’m sorry he’s dead, but he was good at making promises.”

 

Political fundraiser Emma Bell testifies Thursday about cash deliveries she made to Kwame Kilpatrick at the mayor’s office in amounts less than $10,000 at a time. (Illustration by Ray Stanczak / The Detroit News)

Kwame Kilpatrick’s lawyer tried to cast doubt on claims from a fundraiser that she gave the former mayor kickbacks stuffed in her bra.

Fundraiser Emma Bell earlier testified she met privately with Kilpatrick inside his office in the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center and handed him kickbacks.

“I don’t want to be indelicate, but you say you met him privately in the mayor’s office,” Kilpatrick defense lawyer James C. Thomas said. “Are you telling the jury that you took money out of your bra in front of him in a closed room and gave him cash?”

“I would take money out of my bra in front of my son,” Bell said.

Bell started to demonstrate how she dipped into her bra to deliver the kickback.

“It’s not like I was pulling my blouse up,” Bell testified. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“I would have never asked you to demonstrate, but now that you are, is that the fashion you did it in?” Thomas asked her. “I wonder if you had any uncomfortability in doing that?”

“Was I uncomfortable?” Bell asked. “No, sir.”

Bell’s bra purse is just one of the fundraiser’s hiding spots. She also hid cash in a can under her bed and stashed cashier’s checks under her mattress, according to testimony.

In all, prosecutors say Bell pocketed more than $900,000 in commissions from helping Kilpatrick raise money for his mayoral campaign, inaugural committee and purported charities.

Her fortunes plummeted after in 2008 amid the text-message scandal and Kilpatrick’s various legal woes as donors skedaddled.

In 2007, Bell was paid $278,222 in commissions.

The next year, her pay fell to $67,500.

Kilpatrick lawyer James C. Thomas

Kwame Kilpatrick’s lawyer tried to weaken testimony from the mayor’s former fundraiser who told jurors Thursday about paying kickbacks to the Detroit leader.

Bell earlier said Kilpatrick asked her if she would “have something for him” after he paid her a $100,000 commission for raising money for his various campaigns and charities.

Bell said she believed Kilpatrick was demanding a kickback. Bell testified she gave him about $50,000 — the first of many alleged kickbacks totaling more than $286,000.

“He didn’t say ‘I want half,'” Thomas told her. “He said ‘I’ll see you later.’ He never told you any specific amount he wanted.”

“Right, sir,” Bell said.

Kilpatrick’s lawyer is using a soft touch so far with mostly polite questions, a stark contrast from Wednesday when Thomas talked about Bell with an IRS special agent.

Today, he gently broached Bell’s slot-playing hobby and tax woes.

“You had a gambling problem, right?” Thomas asked Bell in a soft voice.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

“You were there on a pretty regular basis,” Thomas said.

For example, Bell gambled $788,950 in 2007 at Greektown Casino. She lost $56,325.

Former Southfield City Councilman William Lattimore

Testimony from Kwame Kilpatrick’s former fundraiser Emma Bell sparked a passionate response from former Southfield City Councilman William Lattimore, who was sentenced two years ago to 18 months in prison for taking bribes.

Lattimore, who likes Caps lock, posted this on Facebook earlier today:

“TO SEE EMMA BELL TESTIFY AGAINST THE KILPATRICK FAMILY IS ALMOST LIKE BLASPHEMY. IT’S SAD BECAUSE BERNARD KILPATRICK AND ART BLACKWELL FOR NEARLY 20 YEARS MADE EMMA BELL AND CARRIED HER WATER. NOW SHE’S A RAT FOR THE FEDS!”

Lattimore pleaded guilty to bribery after he was picked up on a Synagro investigation wiretap of the cell phone of political consultant Sam Riddle.

Lattimore admitted accepting $7,500 from Riddle to help get approvals to move Zeidman’s Jewelry and Loan, a Southfield pawn shop, to another location. He was released from federal prison in January.

Kwame Kilpatrick’s lawyer launched a cross examination of the former mayor’s longtime fundraiser Thursday, a day after labeling her an alcoholic, a gambling addict and a liar with tax problems.

Thomas started off cross examination softly, asking the black woman if she raised money for Republicans.

“If you look like me and you’re Republican,” Bell testified, “there’s something wrong with you.”

Bell raised money for Kilpatrick’s mayoral campaign, charity and other entities from 2003 to 2008. In all, she was paid more than $900,000.

Prosecutors allege she gave Kilpatrick about $286,000 in kickbacks. Bell split her commission checks with Kilpatrick, giving him cash whenever she received a check of $5,000 or more, prosecutors allege.

Bell didn’t keep any income she received working for Kilpatrick in the bank because she owed income taxes to the IRS.

Bell testified she stashed cash in a coffee can, which she stored under her bed.  She also hid cashier’s checks, which ultimately were split with Kilpatrick, under her mattress.

Thomas has suggested Bell didn’t pay Kilpatrick kickbacks. Instead, she blew the cash at the casino, he said.

Prosecutors argued Bell made enough money to cover her gambling debts and pay the kickbacks.

Bell testified she kept the alleged kickback scheme quiet, including her driver who shuttled her from the bank to private payoffs with Kilpatrick.

“You were good at keeping that from her,” Thomas said.

“From all people,” Bell countered. “Most people.”

Kwame Kilpatrick’s longtime fundraiser Emma Bell called Bobby Ferguson a great man and said he gave her money to help her through lean financial times.

Bell said Ferguson would give her money on occasion.

“He is a great man,” Bell testified. “I was at the bank and he gave me a check or cash, I can’t remember, but he was helping me out.

“He is a man who when you meet, and if he likes you, you’re like family,” Bell testified. “He called me mom.”

Ferguson is a close friend of Kilpatrick and is standing trial on corruption charges alongside the former mayor

Prosecutors spent part of the day asking Bell about her tax problems, which date to President Jimmy Carter’s administration.

Bell owes $153,848 in delinquent state and federal taxes, records show. Since 2002, the state and IRS have filed four tax liens against Bell ranging in size from $4,585 to $111,839.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta, trying to head off defense questions about Bell’s gambling history, asked her what kind of games she played at Greektown Casino.

“I played the slots sir,” Bell testified. “In the casino, you think every machine is lucky, and it’s not.”

Kilpatrick lawyer James C. Thomas on Wednesday referred to Bell as a gambling addict who lost more than $193,000 from 2005 to 2008.

On an typical casino visit, Bell said she would gamble no more than $2,000.

photo of Kwame Kilpatrick heading for court

Kwame Kilpatrick heads for court

Money donors gave to Kwame Kilpatrick’s charity to help kids ended up as cash in the mayor’s pocket, longtime fundraiser Emma Bell testified Thursday.

Prosecutors have spent an hour so far questioning Bell about kickbacks allegedly delivered to Kilpatrick.

Her testimony offered the most dramatic moments of the two-week trial. Bell is the second witness to testify about handing Kilpatrick cash.

Bell was questioned about a $15,000 check she received in September 2007 for helping raise money for the Kilpatrick Civic Fund. The charity was set up to help kids in Detroit, but prosecutors allege Kilpatrick treated the charity like his personal piggy bank.

“Did you give any of that money to Kwame Kilpatrick?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta asked Bell.

“Maybe five or six,” thousand, Bell said.

“Do you know if the $5,000 or $6,000 in cash was coming from a fund that was supposed to help kids in Detroit?” the prosecutor asked.

Bell took a long pause before answering.

“If it was the Civic Fund, yes sir,” Bell said.

“Did it bother you?” the prosecutor asked.

Bell made him ask again before answering.

“It did, but I took it,” Bell testified.

“Did it bother you that you gave a kickback…from a fund set up to help the community?” the prosecutor asked.

“Yes, sir,” she answered.

“Why did you do it?” Bullotta asked

“That’s really hard to answer,” Bell said, “but I did it sir.”

The first time fundraiser Emma Bell got paid to raise cash for Kwame Kilptrick’s mayoral campaign, she was handed a $100,000 check.

And a request in August 2003 from Kilpatrick:

“He said I will see you later and he (asked) would I have something for him,” Bell testified.

Bell spoke after long pauses that added tension and drama to her highly anticipated testimony as a key government witness against Kilpatrick.

“You were taking a long time to answer the questions,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta asked Bell. “Is there a reason why?”

“It’s not easy for me to even be here sir,” Bell said. “It’s definitely not easy for me to answer a question like that.”

“Why,” Bullotta asked.

“It’s just not easy,”Bell said. “Based on my relationship not just with him but with his family as well.”

Kilpatrick sat at the defense table, resting his head in his right hand while Bell testified.

Bullotta asked her to clarify what Kilpatrick meant when he asked her if she would have something for him.

“That I would have a package for him or come back with something,” Bell said.

“Something meaning?” Bullotta asked

“Money,” Bell said.

“Did that take you by surprise?” Bullotta asked.

“Yes sir,” Bell said.

From the $100,000 check, Bell said she gave Kilpatrick $40,000 or $50,000.

She cashed the $100,000 check, withdrew $10,000 and converted the balance to cashier’s checks.

Bell stashed the checks in a can that she hid under her bed or under her mattress.

“Have you ever been asked to give back some of the money you got from commission checks?” the prosecutor asked.

“No sir,” Bell said.

Bell pocketed 10-15 percent of any money she helped raise for Kilpatrick. The feds allege she pocketed more than $900,000 during the time she worked as a fundraiser for Kilpatrick.

Bell said she delivered the kickback from the first $100,000 check to Kilpatrick at his office in the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center or at his home.

She carried the money — in $50 and $100 bills — around in her pocket or her bra, Bell testified.

Bell would deliver kickbacks to Kilpatrick inside the mayor’s office or an adjoining room outfitted with a barber’s chair, she testified.

Each time, Bell would hand him $8,000 or $10,000.

“He’d put it in his pocket,” Bell testified.

She was asked how much in all she gave Kilpatrick.

“I don’t know the exact amount,” Bell said. “It was more than $100 (thousand) and more than $200 (thousand).”

Prosecutors allege she gave Kilpatrick more than $286,000 in kickbacks.

Jeff Beasley

Longtime Kwame Kilpatrick fundraiser Emma Bell testified Thursday she got tips on prospective fundraisers from indicted ex-Detroit Treasurer Jeff Beasley — who sat on the city’s Police and Fire pension fund — and Greektown mogul Jim Papas.

Bell said she sent one fundraising letter to Michael Nairne of a firm called Chicago Equity. The firm was a money manager for the police and fire fund and in 2010 was put on a watch list for performance reasons.

Papas, who hosted a fundraiser for Kilpatrick, was profiled in The Detroit News last week and Beasley is awaiting trial in a separate corruption scandal involving a city pension fund. From the Papas profile:

Beasley invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 477 times during a deposition last year. Some questions were about whether he received benefits from Papas.

According to a deposition transcript obtained by The News, among the questions Beasley was asked were:

“Isn’t it true you were staying at Jim Papas’ luxury condo down in South Beach at the time?”

“Isn’t it true that you had Super Bowl tickets from Mr. Papas and attended the Super Bowl?”

“Isn’t it true that at the time you did that, Mr. Papas had pension fund deals or deals pending with the pension fund?”

Beasley invoked the Fifth Amendment each time.

Kwame Kilpatrick leaves the Atheneum Suite Hotel on Sept. 6 and gets into one of the hotel’s vans. Kilpatrick, who has said he is broke, had been staying in early September at the hotel at which rooms start at $180 a night.

Papas owns The Atheneum Suite Hotel in Greektown, a favorite Kilpatrick haunt.

Bell received more than $900,000 from various Kilpatrick entities in exchange for raising money to fund his mayoral campaign and purported charity, the Kilpatrick Civic Fund.

Prosecutors allege Kilpatrick treated the Civic Fund like his personal piggy bank, spending donations on yoga classes, golf clubs, summer camp for his kids, counter-surveillance and anti-bugging equipment and more.

Bell has alleged Kilpatrick demanded more than $286,000 in kickbacks from money raised by Bell. Bell split her commission checks with Kilpatrick, giving him cash whenever she received a check of $5,000 or more, prosecutors allege.

Longtime Kilpatrick fundraiser Emma Bell took the witness stand Thursday and is expected to testify about giving the former mayor kickbacks.

Bell is expected to face a brutal cross-examination from Kilpatrick lawyer James C. Thomas about her gambling, tax woes and personal life. On Wednesday, he referred to her as a gambling addict and alcoholic.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta

But first, Bell faced a softball:

“How you doin’?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta asked Bell.

“I’m OK, thank you for asking,” Bell said.

Bullotta walked Bell through her time in Detroit and her history with Kilpatrick and his parents.

She met the family in the early 1970s through the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Detroit.

“We all went to the same church and sometimes were at political events together,” said Bell, who wore a long strand of pearls to federal court.

Bullotta asked Bell about her relationship with Kwame Kilpatrick.

“We had a good relationship, a very good relationship,” Bell said, adding she started raising money for Kilpatrick’s mayoral campaign, charity and other entities in 2003.

A second juror in the Kwame Kilpatrick case was dismissed from the case, though no reason was given by U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds.

The move comes two days after a sleeping juror was removed and replaced by one of six alternate jurors.

Testimony ended early Wednesday after one juror fell ill, though it was not immediately clear Thursday whether the ill juror was the one removed today.

Former Kilpatrick fundraiser Emma Bell

Longtime Kwame Kilpatrick fundraiser Emma Bell is expected to emerge from the background today and testify the former mayor forced her to pay more than $286,000 in cash kickbacks.

The 68-year-old Detroiter has been a consistent figure in Detroit and Wayne County political circles over the years. Never the headliner,  the former county official hovered outside the spotlight, helping the boldface names, connecting movers and shakers and making money along the way.

Here’s a tour through Bell’s background, courtesy of The Detroit News archive:

Jan. 1, 2002: Mayor-elect Kwame Kilpatrick, sworn in Sunday as mayor, kicks off five days of celebration Wednesday to herald his election as the city’s youngest leader.

Carlita Kilpatrick

Kilpatrick’s wife, Carlita, will host more than 600 people at a first lady’s luncheon Wednesday in the Roostertail restaurant, which overlooks the Detroit River. The $50-per-person event, which is sold out, will showcase youth talent for business, community and elected officials.

“The theme is dedicated sisterhood, strong motherhood, perpetual womanhood,” said Emma Bell, who helped coordinate the luncheon. “The first woman is really interested in showcasing young students that are doing things.”

June-November 2007: Bell contributes $2,000 to the political campaign of Kilpatrick’s mother, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick.

Aug. 24, 2008: Bell attends the Democratic Convention in Denver as a delegate on the Credentials Committee. She is pictured at far right.

Oct. 19, 2008: Kwame Kilpatrick often relied on Bell to set up meetings with business people who benefited from no-bid contracts.

On Aug. 21, 2006, Bell set up a meeting between Kilpatrick and businessman Angelo D’Alessandro, whose companies had benefited from approximately $30 million in no-bid contracts, mostly from the city and the water department.

A second meeting, on March 7, 2007, was at the Detroit Breakfast House. D’Alessandro and his family have given the former mayor more than $30,000 in campaign donations.

Bell also set up a meeting for Aug. 31, 2006, with Kathy and Mark Leipsitz of Grosse Pointe. A few weeks later, their, firm Shelbourne Development, began discussions with the city to buy the Brodhead Armory. The deal was later scuttled by City Council after an anonymous letter was distributed warning them that the husband-and-wife team had partnered with the mayor’s father.

Kwame Kilpatrick

Meanwhile, Kilpatrick has paid Bell more than $400,000 since 2005.

Dec. 30, 2010: Bell owes $153,848 in delinquent state and federal taxes, records show. Since 2002, the state and IRS have filed four tax liens against Bell ranging in size from $4,585 to $111,839.

Bell works as a part-time consultant for Detroit-based Strategic Staffing Solutions, helping oversee the firm’s charitable initiatives, company spokesman Bob Berg said.

Strategic Staffing Solutions has ties to figures involved in the City Hall corruption investigation. The firm received a $4 million contract to install electronic warning signs in Campus Martius and elsewhere in Detroit. Derrick Miller, former chief information officer for Detroit who was indicted earlier this month alongside Kilpatrick, was involved in awarding the contract.

Sept. 21, 2011: Bell is charged in federal court with two counts of tax evasion. According to the FBI:

“Bell received payments from the Kilpatrick-related entities totaling over $900,000, none of which she reported as income to the Internal Revenue Service. At the direction of Kilpatrick, Bell split her commission checks with him, giving him cash whenever she received a check of $5,000 or more. When Kilpatrick’s portion of the commission checks exceeded $10,000, Bell would make multiple deliveries of cash to Kilpatrick on different occasions so that she would not cause her bank to create a currency transaction report by obtaining over $10,000 in cash at one time. Bell also failed to report gambling winnings, interest, and other income during this time period.”

Oct. 3, 2011: Bell pleads guilty to two counts of tax evasion. Under the plea deal, Bell agrees to cooperate against Kilpatrick and prosecutors will recommend she spend no more than 18 months in prison.

Bernard Kilpatrick

July 10, 2012: Bell is among 51 former high-ranking Wayne County officials who receive free lifetime health benefits from the county. Bell is former director of community affairs for the Wayne County Board of Commissioners.

Also on the list: Bernard Kilpatrick, the mayor’s father who is standing trial on corruption charges alongside his son.

Robert Snell
Robert Snell is the Detroit News federal courts reporter. He can be reached at rsnell@detnews.com or (313) 222-2028.