Defense lawyers offered new interpretations of text messages Thursday that prosecutors say show ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and others waged a behind-the-scenes scheme to rig a contract in friend Bobby Ferguson’s favor.
Also Thursday, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Special Agent Carol Paszkiewicz spent a second day on the witness stand answering questions about text messages seized by investigators during the City Hall corruption probe. She read texts Wednesday that allegedly illustrate the inner workings of a racketeering conspiracy involving Kilpatrick, Ferguson and former Detroit Water boss Victor Mercado.
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Federal prosecutors countered a defense argument that Bobby Ferguson was a proud black man looking out for fellow minority contractors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow asked a federal agent whether she investigated allegations Ferguson and his friend, ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, cheated other black contractors out of city deals and money.
“Did you investigate whether African American contractors suffered by the administration giving Bobby Ferguson contracts?” Chutkow asked EPA Special Agent Carol Paszkiewicz.
“Yes,” the agent said.
“Did that include lost city contracts?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes,” the agent said.
“Contracts canceled that were awarded to African American contractors?” the prosecutor asked.
“Initially awarded, yes,” Paszkiewicz said.
“And instances in which African American contractors were forced to enter into agreements with Mr. Ferguson?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes,” the agent said.
In the City Hall corruption indictment, Ferguson, with Kilpatrick’s help, is accused of extorting a black-owned firm A&H Contractors Inc.
The firm is headed by businessman Tom Hardiman.
“Is Mr. Hardiman African American?” Chutkow asked the agent.
“Yes,” the agent said.
“Is he the next witness in the case?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes, he is,” the agent said.
Bobby Ferguson’s text messages are so grammatically incorrect and filled with misspellings and missing words that Kwame Kilpatrick’s lawyer veered off into a speech about the play “Cyrano de Bergerac.”
Attorney James C. Thomas was miffed that a federal agent was interpreting Ferguson’s text messages. The texts are important because prosecutors allege the messages show Ferguson and the ex-mayor schemed to rig a city bid.
In one text from 2004, Ferguson allegedly asked a mayoral aide about Kilpatrick’s whereabouts.
Ferguson: “is I him with the boss this is real urgent.”
Thomas accused EPA Special Agent Carol Paszkiewicz of assuming Ferguson was referring to the ex-mayor.
“You filled in words that are not there,” Thomas said.
“I disagree with that,” Paszkiewicz said.
Kilpatrick’s lawyer criticized the agent for trying to interpret the message. In doing so, he launched into a tangent about French duelist Cyrano de Bergerac, large noses, insults and the danger of misinterpretations.
The classic Steve Martin flick “Roxanne” is based on the play “Cyrano de Bergerac.”
A federal agent wrongly testified earlier when she said Kwame Kilpatrick signed a contract with a firm in 2003 to manage water-main replacement work downtown.
The ex-mayor’s lawyer questioned EPA Special Agent Carol Paszkiewicz about her testimony Wednesday that Kilpatrick signed the contract with the firm DLZ in June 2003.
Attorney James C. Thomas showed the agent the contract Thursday. It was signed by former Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Victor Mercado.
“Do you think your answer is correct today?” Thomas asked the agent.
“Yes, I still think it is correct,” the agent said.
She later clarified her answer.
“(Kilpatrick) approved it, but it is always the director or deputy director that physically signs the contract,” Paszkiewicz said.
“Your testimony yesterday was incorrect,” Thomas said.
“In part,” she said.
Bobby Ferguson’s lawyer clashed repeatedly with a federal agent Thursday while trying to explain racial language used by his client in text messages.
In combative exchanges, attorney Michael Rataj tried to refocus attention on text messages from 2004 that prosecutors allege showed Ferguson and his friend, ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, scheming to rig a water department contract.
Rataj offered another explanation for a text message exchange between Kilpatrick and Ferguson in February 2004. In one text message, Ferguson used the words “my people” in telling Kilpatrick about potentially losing a water main replacement job.
“When he says my people, could he have been talking about,” another black contractor, Rataj asked.
“No, not from a legal sense,” EPA Special Agent Carol Paszkiewicz said.
“Do you read minds?” Rataj asked. “It’s a possibility.”
“No,” the agent said.
“When brain went to fingertips and he was tapping that phone, you know what he was thinking?” Rataj asked.
“No,” the agent said.
The exchange followed another testy cross examination.
“You would agree Bobby Ferguson is a man who has a tremendous amount of racial pride?” Rataj asked the agent.
“Huh, racial pride?” the agent said.
“He’s proud to be a black man,” Rataj said.
“You don’t take issue with that do you?”
“No, why would I?” the agent said.
“He is an aggressive individual,” Rataj asked. “He’s a Type A personality.”
“As am I, sir,” the agent said.
“I’m not asking about you,” the lawyer said.
At another point, Rataj questioned the agent about a water-main replacement project downtown. Several firms were hired, including Ferguson and suburban firms owned by whites.
Rataj showed the agent city records indicating those white-owned firms submitted change orders that boosted the value of their contracts by several million dollars.
Rataj was trying to show that Ferguson was not alone in submitting lucrative change orders.
Lanzo Construction, for example, was awarded a $1.4 million contract. After 12 change orders, the Roseville firm’s contract was worth $6.4 million.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds, a huge Detroit Tigers fan, found a silver lining in the team’s loss last night in Game 1 of the World Series.
“I figure you went to bed pretty early,” said Bobby Ferguson’s defense lawyer Michael Rataj.
“That was the only saving grace,” Edmunds said.
“Will the Tigers have an answer to (San Francisco Giants slugger Pablo) Sandoval?” Rataj asked.
“I hope so,” the judge said, “it was pretty depressing last night.”
Bobby Ferguson’s lawyer got off to a rocky start with a federal agent who investigated the City Hall corruption case.
Defense attorney Michael Rataj asked EPA Special Agent Carol Paszkiewicz if it was fair the city gave special preference to minority-owned Detroit firms like Ferguson’s company. Rataj asked if the special consideration was fair given that Ferguson worked on an earlier water main project that came in under budget and on schedule.
“No,” Paszkiewicz said.
“No, you don’t agree?” Rataj asked.
“No. Can I explain why?” the agent said.
“Nope,” Rataj said.
On Wednesday, jurors heard from Pratap Rajadhyaksha, whose firm hired Ferguson to work on a 2004 water-main replacement project.
Rajadhyaksha testified about demands from Ferguson for more money, criticized the contractor’s work and complained about pressure to hire the mayor’s friend.
An alleged racketeering conspiracy headed by ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick siphoned about $60 million from the city despite judicial oversight of the water department and a network of experts hired to oversee contracts.
A lawyer for indicted water boss Victor Mercado told jurors Thursday about one consultant hired to review contracts worth more than $500,000. The consultant, Infrastructure Management Group, or IMG, reviewed contracts for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade has called IMG and others, including the late-U.S. District Judge John Feikens, victims of the alleged racketeering conspiracy.
Feikens gained broad oversight of the water department following a 1977 federal consent judgment that settled a pollution lawsuit.
In turn, Feikens hired IMG to review contracts, contract change orders and contract amendments worth more than $500,000. The firm was paid more than $2.2 million between 2008 and 2010, according to Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner John McCulloch.
IMG was part of a team of consultants who were paid millions to help oversee and manage the department.
The team included Detroit lawyer F. Thomas Lewand, father of Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand. Since being appointed in 2002, Lewand was paid more than $1.5 million, a bill paid by water and sewerage customers across southeastern Michigan, according to court records reviewed by The News.
Lewand was fired by a federal judge following the Kilpatrick indictment in December 2010.
The indictment alleges Mercado lied to Lewand, who was looking into a security contract that was first questioned by The News in 2005.
The News reported DFT Security, a joint venture that included one of Ferguson’s companies, was awarded a $21.3 million contract to perform security upgrades for the department. The News showed the contract was awarded even though DFT’s bid was neither the lowest nor the most qualified.
At the time, Mercado said he made the recommendation because DFT had agreed to meet an earlier deadline to complete the work.
But after the article ran, Feikens told Lewand to investigate.
Following an investigation, Lewand declared the security contract award was proper.
Kwame Kilpatrick’s inner circle thought Water boss Victor Mercado was a slick outsider, his lawyer said Thursday.
Defense attorney Martin Crandall tried to draw a distinction Thursday between Kilpatrick’s “kitchen cabinet” and Mercado, who is standing trial alongside the former mayor in the City Hall corruption case.
Crandall is questioning EPA Special Agent Carol Paszkiewicz about some of the approximately 500,000 text messages seized by federal agents. Texts shown to jurors Wednesday showed Kilpatrick and friend Bobby Ferguson deriding Mercado while allegedly scheming to rig a water contract.
“Is it fair to say in the texts you looked at…that it seems clear that…they talked about Victor, that he’s full of s—, that he’s the slickman?” Crandall asked.
“That’s fair,” the agent said.
The number of texts exchanged by Mercado and his co-defendants is a smaller portion of those seized by agents, Paszkiewicz agreed.
“Is it fair to say based upon all of that text dialogue…that Victor was not in the trusted confidence of the speakers?” Crandall asked.
“I’m not going to agree with you,” she said.
Mercado tried and failed to get a separate trial, arguing he is a victim of Kilpatrick’s alleged racketeering conspiracy and and threatened to air other allegations unknown to prosecutors and the FBI.
Prosecutors say Mercado played a pivotal role in a racketeering conspiracy even though he was not a member of Kilpatrick’s inner circle.
Mercado faces up to 20 years in prison, if convicted, of charges including racketeering conspiracy, extortion and obstruction of justice.
When a team of federal agents raided Ferguson’s offices while building a $12-million bid-rigging case, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency criminal investigator was there. When agents spotted the Diff’rent Strokes-inspired spiral staircase inside Ferguson’s chilling pad, she was there.
When federal prosecutors tried Ferguson on bid-rigging charges this summer, she was there alongside agents from the FBI and HUD. When the feds launch the retrial in April, she’ll likely be there.
And when testimony resumes Thursday morning in federal court, she’ll be on the witness stand.
The agent was in the unique position of reading Ferguson’s grammatically challenged texts for jurors Wednesday.
It’s occasionally a tongue-twisting task.
Ferguson used abbreviations that would stump tweens, kept a racial scorecard and favored inventive spelling.
The only thing she wouldn’t read Wednesday: Ferguson’s f-bomb.