A felon who financed Kwame Kilpatrick’s rise from the state House to the mayor’s office faced tough questions today about his $500,000 in alleged bribes.
Jon Rutherford spent a second day on the witness stand after telling prosecutors he gave money to Kilpatrick, his father, Bernard Kilpatrick, and related groups while pursuing a casino project in Detroit.
But Kwame Kilpatrick’s lawyer challenged testimony that Rutherford paid the money to win support from the ex-mayor and his father for the casino project.
Bernard Kilpatrick’s lawyer also countered allegations his client pocketed $113,000 for no-show work from Rutherford.
Rutherford never used the word “bribe” but said he expected something in return and never would have paid the Kilpatricks money otherwise.
Rutherford, 63, originally took the stand Thursday as the feds shifted their focus to from the ex-mayor’s nonprofit group to allegations involving bribery and extortion.
The Orchard Lake businessman is testifying in hopes of slashing his 21-month prison sentence.
Prosecutors also showed jurors text messages Friday that underscored allegations in the criminal case against Kwame Kilpatrick and his close friend and co-defendant, contractor Bobby Ferguson. The friends exchanged texts in January 2004, which the FBI believes also illustrates Ferguson’s role raising money for Kilpatrick’s mayoral campaign.
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Bobby Ferguson recruited his girlfriend and uncle to obtain money orders totaling about $40,000 later given to Kwame Kilpatrick’s mayoral campaign.
He also told his girlfriend to lie to FBI agents about the transaction, according to testimony Friday that addressed an allegation in the corruption indictment. The indictment accuses Ferguson of causing straw donors to lie to investigators and a federal grand jury between 2001 and 2006.
Prosecutors called Ferguson’s ex-girlfriend and uncle Friday, both of whom testified about how the City Hall corruption case co-defendant allegedly used straw donors to bankroll Kilpatrick’s campaign.
The money started off as proceeds from the sale of scrap metal by Ferguson’s demolition company, Ferguson Enterprises Inc.
Ferguson’s firm was paid more than $41,500 for selling scrap metal to Ferrous Processing and Trading Co., according to the contractor’s uncle George Brown.
Ferguson directed Brown to cash the checks at Comerica Bank. He cashed the checks and bought several money orders, each totaling $3,400, Brown testified.
The money order amounts were no accident. Individual donors are allowed to give a maximum of $3,400 to state campaigns, according to testimony.
Ferguson later delivered the money orders to his girlfriend Renee Newsome’s home. He asked her and her sister to sign them.
The money orders were blank but later issued to Kilpatrick for Mayor, according to testimony and images of the checks shown to jurors.
When questioned by the FBI, Newsome told agents the money was hers.
“Were you telling the FBI the truth,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Blackwell asked her.
“No,” Newsome said.
“Why didn’t you tell them the truth?” Blackwell asked.
“Because he told me to stick to my story,” said Newsome, who dated the married Ferguson about eight years ago.
Newsome appears to be “Straw Donor A” from the City Hall corruption indictment, which accuses Ferguson of trying to get donors to lie to investigators and a federal grand jury.
Coincidentally, she also gave $1,000 in 2001 to the campaign of Kilpatrick’s mom, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Newsome’s two sisters also testified about signing money orders totaling $3,400.
Sister Darlene Johnson, who signed checks totaling $3,400, said Ferguson visited her at home in 2005 before she testified in front of a federal grand jury.
Ferguson showed up unexpectedly and walked into her bedroom.
“He was talking about the grand jury and when I go testify, what to say,” Johnson said. “I was supposed to say the money didn’t come from him; I saved the money from doing various jobs.”
“How did you respond?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Blackwell asked.
“I said I was never gonna lie if I came to court,” Johnson said.
“Did he say anything about your sister?” Blackwell asked.
“Renee? That it would fall back on her,” Johnson said.
Prosecutors showed jurors text messages Friday that underscores allegations in the criminal case against Kwame Kilpatrick and his close friend and co-defendant, contractor Bobby Ferguson.
The friends exchanged texts in January 2004 that the FBI believes also illustrates Ferguson’s role raising money for Kilpatrick’s mayoral campaign.
Ferguson: “We need $1,700,000. Hell you know we are greedy.”
Kilpatrick: No DOUBT, BIG DOG! Lets GO GET IT.”
Ferguson: “I am trying, most of what BW does next time will come from ‘them deals.’”
Kilpatrick: “LOLLOLLOLLOL! Right”
(The BW text refers to Bobby Ferguson’s first and middle initial.)
According to the indictment, Ferguson and the ex-mayor extorted city contractors, who were forced to hire Ferguson. Ferguson then shared some of the money with Kilpatrick.
From the indictment:
As a result of their extortion and contract rigging, FERGUSON obtained tens of millions of dollars of work and revenues from municipal contracts and municipal contractors, a portion of which FERGUSON shared with other members of the Enterprise, including KWAME KILPATRICK.
A nonprofit run by Kwame Kilpatrick’s sister was desperate for cash in March 2003 and she suggested to her father he tap a controversial businessman for money, according to testimony Friday.
Prosecutors showed jurors a text-message exchange between Ayanna Kilpatrick Ferguson and her father, Bernard Kilpatrick. The mayor’s sister referred to the nonprofit group she headed, the Next Vision Foundation, and businessman Jon Rutherford.
Rutherford is accused of paying more than $500,000 in bribes to the mayor and his father for their support of his casino project in Detroit.
On March 6, 2003, the mayor’s sister texted her father:
Ayanna: The Next Vision Foundation is in dire straights for a minute. I won’t get my $1,240 paycheck this week. Need to hit up for anything between $500-$1,000 and keep us on your radar with the Rutherford and Runcos of the world.”
Bernard Kilpatrick: No problem!
The Runco text is referring to John Runco, owner and partner of a firm called Capital Waste, according to testimony.
Runco had business ties with Bernard Kilpatrick.
It’s unclear if either Rutherford or Runco donated money to the foundation after the text-message exchange.
But money did change hands earlier, according to the indictment:
On or about October 22,2002, at BERNARD KILPATRICK’s request, Rutherford gave $5,000 to the Next Vision Foundation, a nonprofit run by KWAME KILPATRICK’s sister. BERNARD KILPATRICK advised KWAME KILPATRICK of this contribution.
Prosecutors showed jurors a series of text messages indicating Kwame Kilpatrick and his staff worked on a casino project pitched by a businessman who allegedly paid the mayor bribes for his support.
The text messages were exchanged between Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, former aide Derrick Miller and others.
Businessman Jon Rutherford testified earlier about payments he made to the mayor and his father while pursuing a casino project along the Detroit River. Rutherford was in talks with an architect from The Venetian Las Vegas Casino, Hotel & Resort to build a casino in Detroit.
Jurors read one text sent Dec. 30, 2004, between Miller and Kwame Kilpatrick.
Miller: “Just talked to Jon Rutherford. Venetian wants to come in on 17th to discuss riverfront piece complete with convention facility…”
An FBI agent backed up testimony from a key government witness who said he spent $2,400 buying tickets to a Las Vegas prizefight for Kwame Kilpatrick and his father.
FBI Special Agent Robert Beeckman was shown hotel records for Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino indicating Kwame Kilpatrick stayed at the hotel in November 2001, when Rutherford met with the mayor and father Bernard Kilpatrick.
The FBI subpoenaed Rutherford’s bank and credit card records indicating the businessman bought tickets to the Lennox Lewis heavyweight fight at Mandalay Bay.
Jurors were shown the credit card records Friday.
Rutherford testified a day earlier that he met with Bernard Kilpatrick inside a Mandalay Bay bar and distributed the boxing tickets.
The agent also read a text message from Loronzo Jones, a Detroit Police officer and former Kwame Kilpatrick bodyguard.
The text backed up another piece of testimony from Rutherford, who said he gave the ex-mayor $10,000 to buy suits during a trip in Dubai. The payment is part of an alleged bribery scheme, prosecutors allege.
Jones sent ormer Kilpatrick aide Derrick Miller a text on July 10, 2002.
“Hey…did we get our clothes in yet from Dubai?” Jones asked.
Miller, a childhood friend of the ex-mayor’s, also went on the Dubai trip. He is cooperating with prosecutors and is expected to testify during the City Hall corruption trial.
A businessman who bankrolled Kwame Kilpatrick’s political ascent allegedly gave more than $97,000 to a grassroots group to help get the young politician elected in 2001.
Community Coalition Chairman Ernest Johnson testified Friday about a meeting with businessman Jon Rutherford in 2001 at the Millender Center. Johnson is backing up testimony Thursday from Rutherford, who allegedly paid the ex-mayor and his father more than $500,000 in bribes.
Kilpatrick’s father told Johnson to meet the businessman at the Detroit residential high-rise to collect money to pay people to go door-to-door and urge voters to elect Kwame Kilpatrick.
Rutherford showed up at the meeting with an envelope. Inside, was a check, Johnson testified.
“I said the bank was closed and that I needed cash,” Johnson said.
Rutherford told him to take the check to a grocery store at Wyoming and Fenkell and cash it. He did.
From the indictment:
Between October 26, 2001 and November 6,2001 (election day), Rutherford provided four checks totaling $97,275 to Community Coalition to pay for costs associated with KWAME KILPATRICK’s mayoral campaign.
Community Coalition poll workers were paid $80 a day — drivers got $100, Johnson testified.
Kwame Kilpatrick ditched a dinner party with high ranking government officials during a 2002 trip to Dubai to buy suits — presumably paid for by $10,000 given by a Detroit businessman, according to testimony.
Ahmad Chebbani, co-founder of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, corroborated testimony from a day earlier that Kilpatrick asked for $10,000 from businessman Jon Rutherford “to buy suits” before flying with a delegation to Dubai. Prosecutors say Rutherford paid the bribe in return for the mayor’s support of a casino project.
Chebbani helped organize the Dubai trip in May 2002. Kilpatrick and others from Metro Detroit met with the ruling class of Dubai.
One night, the group had dinner with the high-ranking officials in hopes of establishing a trade relationship with Dubai, Chebbani said.
Kilpatrick left early.
“I got up to ask him why he was leaving,” Chebbani said. “He said he was leaving to get measured for suits.”
“What was your reaction?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Doeh asked.
“Well, I mean, I had no idea. I didn’t know about the suits so I was surprised,” Chebbani said. “What was the suit all about?”
Kilpatrick told him he had gone shopping the night before to buy suits.
“Did he return?” Doeh asked.
“No, he did not,” Chebbani said.
After the trip, Kipatrick aide Derrick Miller asked Chebbani a question about the suits, which were supposed to be shipped apparently back to Detroit.
“He said the suits might have been lost in the mail,” Chebbani said.
Kwame Kilpatrick never forced a businessman to give him cash, including $10,000 for suits and as much as $5,000 in Las Vegas, according to testimony.
Kilpatrick’s lawyer James C. Thomas challenged testimony Thursday that businessman Jon Rutherford paid the money to win support from the ex-mayor and his father for a casino project.
“He did not force you?” Thomas asked.
“Never,” Rutherford said.
“It was freely given by you without expectation of reward or remuneration?” the lawyer asked.
“Yes,” Rutherford said.
Bernard Kilpatrick’s lawyer countered allegations his client pocketed $113,000 for no-show work from a businessman accused of paying bribes.
Convicted felon Jon Rutherford said Kilpatrick provided some services for the $113,000 he received.
Kilpatrick advised Rutherford about locating cell phone towers in Detroit. The testimony contradicts assertions from prosecutors that Kilpatrick was paid bribes to support Rutherford’s business projects.
Rutherford later severed a $10,000-a-month consulting deal with the mayor’s father after Bernard Kilpatrick was appointed to a mental health board. Rutherford viewed that as a conflict of interest.
“So he walked away from $10,000 a month to serve on an appointed board?” Bernard Kilpatrick lawyer John Shea asked.
“Yes,” Rutherford said.
Prosecutors are trying to clarify testimony government witness Jon Rutherford gave a federal grand jury in April 2010.
Rutherford told the grand jury about a meeting with Kwame Kilpatrick’s father at legendary Detroit bar Flood’s Bar & Grille around 2001.
During his grand jury testimony, which Rutherford didn’t remember Thursday, the businessman recounted a conversation with Bernard Kilpatrick regarding former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young.
“Coleman Young got paid; I’m going to get paid too,” Bernard Kilpatrick allegedly said.
Rutherford hired Bernard Kilpatrick as a consultant, paying him about $113,000 for no-show consulting work, according to testimony Thursday.
Prosecutors say Kilpatrick and his father pocketed more than $500,000 in bribes from Rutherford in return for supporting the businessman’s casino project along the east riverfront. The casino never materialized.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds rebuffed a defense request to call businessman Jon Rutherford a “hostile witness” based on his testimony Thursday.
Defense lawyer John Shea discussed the issue with the judge based on occasionally disagreeable answers to questions from prosecutors.
“I don’t see the justification at this point,” Edmunds said. “He was, I’m not going to say hostile, he was rough. But that’s, you know, who he is.”
Bernard Kilpatrick flashed a big grin Thursday while leaving federal court after a businessman said he plied the political consultant and his son with more than $500,000 in cash, boxing tickets, campaign donations and no-show consulting gigs.
“Did you pawn those boxing tickets?” a reporter asked.
“Were you bribed?” asked another.
Smile. Head shake.
Kilpatrick climbed into a sedan parked in a lot off Lafayette.
His lawyer, John Shea, was a few feet away, paying the parking lot guy, and attention to the media pack.
Shea smiled at the reporters swarming his car and at his client’s performance.
“I like your discipline, Bernard!” Shea shouted.