A politically-connected business consultant spent more than three hours Wednesday testifying about alleged extortion demands made by contractor Bobby Ferguson.
The testimony from Bernard Parker III marked a profane and dramatic shift in the trial back to Detroit Water and Sewerage Department deals allegedly corrupted by Ferguson and his close pal, ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
Bernard Parker III, the son of Wayne County Commissioner Bernard Parker, served as a compelling witness, recounting heated meetings with Ferguson and alleged threats that prompted one businessman to quickly cut a $12,000 check.
Kilpatrick’s defense lawyer James C. Thomas launched his cross-examination shortly before testimony wrapped Wednesday. The two will continue at 9 a.m. Thursday in federal court.
Live Updates EndedPlease read below for an archived view of this event.
Kwame Kilpatrick’s lawyer on Wednesday tried countering allegations the ex-Detroit mayor delayed signing a $12 million contract amendment until his pal got $350,000 in no-show work.
Kilpatrick was busy in late summer/early fall 2005 coping with the city’s budget woes and locked in a close re-election battle with opponent Freman Hendrix, lawyer James C. Thomas said, suggesting reasons why the $12 million amendment languished on the mayor’s desk.
Thomas took jurors back in time to fall 2005 when Kilpatrick lost the August primary to Hendrix and trailed in the polls days before the November election.
Kilpatrick rallied late and won a narrow victory over Hendrix in the general election.
A defense lawyer got off to a funny start while cross-examining government witness Bernard Parker III about alleged extortion involving ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and pal Bobby Ferguson.
“Good afternoon Mr. Parker,” Kilpatrick lawyer James C. Thomas said. “We have not met before.”
“We’ve met several times,” Parker said.
He met Thomas earlier this year when the lawyer was smoking a cigar at a downtown bar after his client in the Hutaree militia case was acquitted by a federal judge.
“You got me on that,” Thomas said, triggering laughter throughout the courtroom.
Defense lawyers are poised to start cross-examining government witness Bernard Parker III about alleged extortion demands from contractor Bobby Ferguson.
It is unclear whether Parker will face questions about his own alleged business practices, some of which surfaced in a lawsuit filed earlier this year by former Deputy Wayne County Executive Azzam Elder.
Parker is the son of Wayne County Commissioner Bernard Parker.
The suit alleges that county vendors “felt they were being harassed and pressured” by Parker’s son to get county work. Elder cited contractor Ghafari Inc., an architect that has a major contract to design a $300 million jail.
That project is under investigation by the FBI in an ongoing probe of alleged corruption within Wayne County government.
From The News story about Elder’s lawsuit earlier this year:
The suit claims that Elder went to Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano and Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak asking for an investigation into Parker’s son, but they refused.
Parker III, who owns a consulting company, denied using his father’s position to acquire work. He said its common to “cold call” companies and that is what he did with Ghafari.
“There were a number of letters we sent to contractors, engineers, environmental firms, other firms in health care industry introducing our firm and asking for informal meetings,” Bernard Parker III said.
Bobby Ferguson’s employee balked when his boss ordered him to collect $80,000 from a contractor who was allegedly being extorted by ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s close friend.
Ferguson allegedly ordered employee Bernard Parker III to visit executive Tom Hardiman at Lakeshore Engineering Services in downtown Detroit.
“What did Mr. Ferguson say he wanted you to do?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow asked.
“He told me to put my foot in his ass and say he isn’t going to get shit else from the city or from (the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department),” Parker testified.
Parker’s testimony involves two key witnesses from earlier in the trial. Hardiman and Lakeshore Engineering CEO Avinash Rachmale spent several days testifying about allegedly being extorted by Ferguson.
Parker was uncomfortable with the marching order.
“I didn’t want to do it,” Parker said. “I thought it was illegal and that I didn’t have the right to threaten somebody for money.”
Parker went anyway and relayed Ferguson’s demand.
“Tom was angry. He couldn’t believe what I told him,” Parker said.
Hardiman allegedly Rachmale into his office at the intersection of W. Grand Boulevard and Woodward.
Parker repeated Ferguson’s demand for $80,000.
“(Rachmale) looked at Tom and told him to take care of it,” Parker testified.
Hardiman grabbed his checkbook and wrote a $12,000 check.
Parker said he took the check to Ferguson.
“What was his response?” the prosecutor asked.
“He said ‘you scary motherf—–. He owes me $80,000,’” Parker testified. “‘You came back with $12,000.’
“I just looked at him like he was crazy,” Parker continued. “In my mind, it was a win-win situation. I brought back $12,000.”
By early 2007, executives at local construction company Walbridge Aldinger were fed up after allegedly being extorted out of $5 million by Bobby Ferguson.
They balked when Ferguson, a close friend of ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, demanded a 35 percent piece of a $140 million Detroit Water and Sewerage Department deal.
Ferguson wanted the 35 percent stake without putting up a bond to cover risks associated with the deal, ex-Walbridge official Bernard Parker testified Wednesday.
“There’s a new boy in town,” Ferguson allegedly said.
Walbridge wouldn’t budge.
In February 2007, Kilpatrick called Walbridge CEO John Rakolta to a meeting at the Manoogian Mansion.
Kilpatrick wanted Rakolta to add Ferguson to the $140 million deal.
“Play fair,” Kilpatrick allegedly said.
Walbridge countered. Instead of a 35-percent stake, Walbridge allegedly offered Ferguson 15 percent.
Ferguson said no.
The firm’s refusal cost Walbridge the $140 million deal, according to prosecutors.
Bobby Ferguson erupted in fall 2003 after a company allegedly extorted out of $5 million penned a letter outlining the illegal activity.
After Ferguson got the letter from the construction company Walbridge Aldinger in October 2003, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s close friend called Walbridge official Bernard Parker III.
“He said ‘you motherf—— are crazy, what the f— is wrong with you? Why did you write a letter like this?’” Parker testified Wednesday.
Parker said he would investigate.
The letter was written by Walbridge executive Brian Cruickshank.
“Walbridge Aldinger was strongly persuaded by highly placed city officials to award a subcontractor’s portion of the excavation work to Ferguson Enterprises.”
“(Ferguson) was angry, that if the letter got out to the wrong hands, it could be a problem,” Parker testified. “He was worried about the media getting ahold of it and it being blown out of proportion.”
Parker told Cruickshank to pen another letter, apologizing.
Walbridge Aldinger was in such a hurry to give Bobby Ferguson a nearly $13 million piece of a sewer deal — and please Ferguson’s pal ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick — that Walbridge penned an unusual contract.
It was handwritten.
That’s according to former Walbridge employee Bernard Parker, who is testifying about Ferguson allegedly extorting Walbridge out of millions of dollars.
The contract was conditioned on the city awarding the deal.
“What was the reason for the hurry?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow asked.
“(Walbridge executive) Ron Hausmann wanted to make sure the deal was agreed to prior to the city making a final decision to award the project,” Parker said.
After the quickie contract was penned, Kilpatrick awarded the sewer deal to Walbridge.
Contractor Bobby Ferguson and one of his attorneys have been visibly upset with the testimony of former employee Bernard Parker III.
Ferguson has been shaking his head frequently and furiously taking notes while Mike Rataj blurted out “Jesus Christ” when Parker said one of his coworkers thought Ferguson was extorting him.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds, who has admonished Rataj in the past for his courtroom decorum, appeared to glare at him.
Parker has been testifying about his time as a business development official with two large contractors, Walbridge Aldinger and Insituform, which was a subcontractor for Grosse Pointe Farms tycoon Tony Soave’s former company, Inland Waters Pollution Control.
Parker has not talked about his time with Ferguson’s Xcel Construction.
Prosecutors have charged that Ferguson squeezed contractors to add him out of fear their city contracts would be held up by Kwame Kilpatrick.
Federal prosecutors questioned a consultant Wednesday about Bobby Ferguson allegedly extorting a powerful businessman’s company out of $5 million.
Testimony from consultant Bernard Parker III marked a shift in the City Hall corruption case from a recreation department contract to a Water department deal involving alleged extortion and Ferguson, the close friend and co-defendant of ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
The project at issue is a 2003 sewer deal awarded to Detroit contractor Walbridge Aldinger. The firm is headed by businessman John Rakolta, a national finance co-chair for failed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Rakolta’s firm is a recurring character in the Kilpatrick indictment, which refers to Walbridge as “Company W.”
According to prosecutors, Ferguson, former Kilpatrick aide Derrick Miller and former Detroit Water boss Victor Mercado extorted Walbridge out of $5 million in work for Ferguson’s company.
From 2003 to 2008, Walbridge gave Ferguson’s company more than $2.7 million in work on the so-called Baby Creek project. Walbridge also gave Ferguson’s company Xcel Construction more than $2.4 million at the nearby Patton Park on the city’s southwest side.
From the indictment:
“FERGUSON obtained this work by exploiting Company W’s fear that FERGUSON would use his relationship with KWAME KILPATRICK and other members of the Mayor’s Office to adversely impact Company W’s chances of winning the contract if they did not do so.”
Miller, the star witness in the corruption trial who reached a plea deal with prosecutors, allegedly told Parker on Feb. 8, 2003, that Walbridge should hire Ferguson to work on the Baby Creek deal, according to prosecutors.
Parker said Ferguson’s firm wasn’t qualified to handle the specialized work.
“(Miller) looked at me and said, ‘well, see if you can put him in on the deal,’” Parker testified Wednesday.
“Did you feel like that was an appropriate thing for him to say?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow asked.
“No,” Parker said.
Besides, Walbridge already had an excavation subcontractor whose prices were 23 percent lower than Ferguson’s.
Two days later, Miller allegedly gave Ferguson inside information on the bidding evaluation process so he could use the intelligence to his advantage while negotiating with Walbridge, prosecutors allege.
Parker told Walbridge officials about Miller’s interest in seeing Ferguson get a piece of the Baby Creek deal.
The executives were angry, Parker said.
They hired Ferguson anyway.
“Why?” Chutkow asked.
“They were worried they weren’t going to get the project,” Parker said.
Days later, Walbridge agreed to pay Ferguson $12.73 million, prosecutors allege.
After the firm agreed to pay Ferguson, Kilpatrick awarded the contract to Walbridge on April 8, 2003.
Bobby Ferguson threatened to hold up a $12 million contract amendment for working on a Sterling Heights sewer collapse until he got more money, according to testimony Wednesday.
Ferguson, a close friend of ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, delivered the threat to partners during a summer 2005 meeting at his Detroit office, according to consultant Bernard Parker III, who worked for a firm named Insituform Technologies .
Insituform was working on the project with Inland Waters, a company formerly owned by Grosse Pointe Farms businessman Tony Soave.
“He said the amendment wouldn’t move unless Insituform and Inland came to an agreement to increase (Ferguson’s) fees,” Parker testified.
Ferguson left the room briefly.
Parker, who is the son of Wayne County Commissioner Bernard Parker, turned to an Insituform executive.
“This is extortion,” the executive allegedly told Parker.
Parker later appealed to Kilpatrick to approve the contract amendment.
“You need to talk to Bobby Ferguson,” Kilpatrick allegedly told Parker.
“Did he tell you to talk to anyone at (Detroit Water and Sewerage),” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow asked.
“Bobby,” Parker said.
According to the City Hall corruption indictment, Kilpatrick steered the sewer collapse work to Ferguson and then held up a $12 million amendment until Inland agreed to pay the mayor’s pal $350,000 for no-show work.
Inland is referred to as “Company I” in the indictment.
From the indictment:
“FERGUSON obtained these agreed payments from Company I and Company I’s partner by exploiting their fear that KWAME KILPATRICK would continue to hold up approval of the amendment if they did not pay FERGUSON.”