A former Kwame Kilpatrick aide testified that he felt forced to pay kickbacks to Bernard Kilpatrick in return for getting a $30 million investment from two city pension funds.
Marc Andre Cunningham, who faces up to 37 months for his role in the alleged bribery scheme, said he gave Bernard Kilpatrick roughly $15,000 in cash.
“I didn’t feel I needed to pay him, I had to pay him,” Cunningham said. “I didn’t think I had options.”
Cunningham is a fraternity brother of Kwame Kilpatrick who came to Detroit from Chicago to work in the mayor’s administration. Before he started, however, he acted as a consultant on the $30 million deal and got a $300,000 commission. He paid Bernard Kilpatrick from that money.
Cunningham was nervous during his testimony, often laughing and occasionally tripping over his statements.
A former employee with a cellular phone company in Chicago, Cunningham said he suggested Kilpatrick switch from the text-message mobile devices they had since 2002 and switch to Blackberry phones in early 2006 because they were more private.
“I suggested that they get the Blackberrys,” Cunningham said. “They wouldn’t have to worry about anyone getting hold of their text messages.”
Federal prosecutors have used earlier text messages they got with a subpoena to great effect, showing jurors how Kwame Kilpatrick, his father and contractor Bobby Ferguson conversed at the same time of alleged wrongdoing.
When they switched to Blackberry phones, Ferguson initially picked up the tab.
Cunningham showed his soft side for the mayor, extolling his virtues of the Kilpatrick administration.
I thought he was a great mayor, in terms of … getting the city back on track,” he said.
Friday was the last day of testimony until Jan. 3.
Live Updates EndedPlease read below for an archived view of this event.
It was Kwame Kilpatrick’s idea to cover up a $5,000 bribe paid to Marc Andre Cunningham, Cunningham testified this afternoon.
After Marc Andre Cunningham learned he had been caught accepting a $5,000 bribe, he said it was then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s idea on how to disguise it.
Cunningham had taken the money from men he thought were New Jersey insurance executives hoping to score work from the City of Detroit with Cunningham’s help.
After he learned the FBI was on to him, Cunningham said he went to Kilpatrick. His idea: come up with $5,000 and put it in the Kilpatrick Civic Fund.
But that idea was soon scuttled, Cunningham said. He would later learn one of the insurance execs was really an FBI informant.
When he took the cash from them, Cunningham said he told the insurance people he would put it in the civic fund.
“What did you do with the money?” defense attorney James C. Thomas asked.
“That i got from them? I spent it,” Cunningham said.
“So you lied to them?” Thomas asked.
Cunningham also agreed with Thomas that he believed former aide Derrick Miller, who like Cunningham has accepted a plea deal in exchange for cooperating in the Kilpatrick prosecution, had “gone rogue.” Miller has admitted to accepting thousands of dollars from a businessman.
Marc Andre Cunningham pivoted from government witness to Kwame Kilpatrick fanboy on cross examination, extolling the virtues of Kilpatrick’s six years as mayor.
“I thought he was a great mayor, in terms of …getting the city back on track,” he told James C. Thomas, Kwame Kilpatrick’s attorney.
Both Cunningham and his wife went to work for the Kilpatrick administration in 2005 and 2006 and he said the “spirit” of the city was rising.
“We had programs in place that were really making a difference,” he said. “You can’t really say anything negative” about what he actually he did for the city.
“The things he accomplished for the city were incredible,” he said. “The lights were working, things were getting done, cops were on the street.”
Cunningham has also said he kicked back thousands of dollars to the mayor’s father, Bernard, for help in securing a $30 million investment from the two Detroit pension funds. He also said he played a role in having the administration switch phones to limit access to text messages.
Humor seeped into the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds this morning when witness Marc Andre Cunningham kept laughing during what was a serious line of questioning from defense attorney John Shea.
After Shea made a reference to Cunningham knowing local consultant Chris Jackson because they were “part of that African-
American circuit,” Cunningham started laughing. Shea clarified, saying Jackson had gone to Howard, a historically black college, and Cunningham went to Florida A&M, also a black school.
As Shea kept asking questions, Cunningham continued to chuckle, reaching for a cup of water.
“Mr. Cunningham, I don’t know why you’re laughing. It’s like that movie, ‘do I amuse you?’ ”
It was the trial’s second reference to the famous Joe Pesci scene from “Goodfellas.”
Cunningham played along, adding the line, “funny like a clown?”
Witness Tony Soave triggered a similar reaction when he said defense attorney Mike Rataj was a “funny guy.” Rataj then turned to his colleagues and began replaying the now famous Pesci lines which preceded a brutal attack on a restaurant employee.
Cunningham has said he kicked back money to Shea’s client, Bernard Kilpatrick. Shea’s questioning has tripped up Cunningham, making him contradict himself at times and appearing confused at others.
After Shea finished, he started laughing again.
Marc Andre Cunningham can expect a tough cross examination after telling jurors how he kicked back thousands of dollars from a shady pension deal to Bernard Kilpatrick.
For his help getting a $30 million investment from the pension funds for a communications firm, Cunningham got a $300,000 contract. He said he was told to give Bernard Kilpatrick a chunk of that money and paid him thousands of dollars in cash during clandestine meetings.
But in opening statements, Kilpatrick’s defense attorney, John Shea, warned jurors about Cunningham, saying he “was dirty to begin with.”
Cunningham agreed to a plea bargain with prosecutors, admitting to a single count of conspiracy to commit bribery. The fraternity brother of Kwame Kilpatrick faces up to 37 months in prison, though that could be lowered if he provides “substantial” assistance to prosecutors in Kilpatrick’s case.
As his administration was unraveling in 2008 in the wake of the text message scandal, Kwame Kilpatrick became increasingly cautious, former aide Marc Andre Cunningham testified this morning.
At a meeting at the Manoogian Mansion, Cunningham said Kilpatrick called him to the backyard, near the Detroit River.
“It was a crazy time,” he said.
The two covered their mouths as they talked, fearful the FBI was watching them, Cunningham said.
After telling Cunningham he had proof the FBI had bugged their phones, Kilpatrick gave him cash to solve the problem.
“He suggested we get different phones,” Cunningham said.
So Cunningham went to a local phone store and bought five phones, he said, which had no contracts.
Marc Andre Cunningham was required to kick back to Bernard Kilpatrick a portion of the $300,000 he got from a financial firm that got a a $30 million investment by two Detroit pension funds, he testified this morning.
Cunningham, visibly nervous on the witness stand, said he was told “BK” had to be in on the deal and he agreed to pay him three to five thousands of dollars every few months ”to thank the mayor for that deal, for making sure it went through.”
In “handshake-to-handshake” payouts, Cunningham said he’d meet Bernard Kilpatrick in “discreet” locations to drop off the cash.
“It was always a quick handshake to handshake, cash in hand type deal,” Cunningham said. They “wanted to keep it low key. We didn’t want anyone to know we were doing it.”
Cunningham helped Syncom Funding get two $15 million investments from the pension funds with help from friend and former city Treasurer Jeff Beasley. Beasley currently faces bribery charges.
After he got the Syncom deal, Cunningham said he was told that Bernard Kilpatrick had to be involved.
“You were told BK had to be in the deal?,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta asked.
“Yes,” Cunningham said.
“Did (Bernard) do anyting before or after to secure that pension deal?”
After Syncom got the funding in 2006, Cunningham got a $300,000 contract and soon began working for Kwame Kilpatrick as an executive assistant. But he said he told the city he was only getting $180,000 from Syncom, altering the details of his deal with them.
Bullotta asked him why he changed the terms of the deal. “I just didn’t want anyone to know how much I was making,” he said.
Cunningham has also said that mayoral aides swept his office for listening devices.
Marc Andre Cunningham, a fraternity brother of Kwame Kilpatrick, has begun testifying, telling the court how he suggested the Kilpatrick administration stop using the SkyTel pagers they had.
Cunningham said he told Kilpatrick the SkyTel pagers weren’t as secure as BlackBerry phones and if he made the switch, “they wouldn’t have to worry about anyone getting hold of their text messages.”
Kilpatrick agreed to buy five Blackberry phones around Christmas 2004 and the initial purchase was paid for by contractor Bobby Ferguson, Cunningham said.
Business consultant Bernard Parker III was expected to testify this morning for a third day but defense attorneys decided not to ask him any more questions after they raised numerous questions about his prior testimony on Thursday.
Cunningham pleaded guilty in 2010 to conspiracy to commit bribery. He was implicated for his role in securing a $30 million investment from the Detroit General Retirement System and Police and Fire pension fund in a venture capital firm.
The pension boards approved the deals and Cunningham got a $300,000 commission from the firm.
Bernard Parker III has spent two days testifying in the Kwame Kilpatrick public corruption trial and his history with the case has been uncanny, much like the mythical life of one Forrest Gump, who found himself at the crossroads of history over and over during the 1994 film.
* once worked for the city human rights division, which prosecutors allege played a role in steering a contract to Kilpatrick friend and co-defendant Bobby Ferguson.
* Was a consultant to Walbridge Aldinger, helping it get work from the city. Prosecutors allege Kilpatrick and Ferguson worked to extort millions from the company.
* Was a consultant to Insituform, which, working through Inland Waters Pollution Control, was allegedly forced to steer work to Ferguson.
* And after working for both of those firms, Parker then teamed up with Ferguson himself.
Oh, and since he left Ferguson, he started his own firm BP3 and Associates. Working alongside him? April Edgar, his wife. Loyal trial watchers will remember her: She’s Christine Beatty’s half-sister and she spent a good amount of time on the same witness stand detailing how Kilpatrick ordered her to write numerous checks from his nonprofit for hotels, airfare and payouts to Bernard Kilpatrick, his father and co-defendant.
As for Edgar, after she stopped working for the city, she too landed a gig at Ferguson’s Xcel Construction.