Day 63: Feds end in flurry of Kilpatrick text messages

Jurors saw dozens of text messages Tuesday portraying Kwame Kilpatrick allegedly scheming to steer lucrative city contracts to pal Bobby Ferguson.

Prosecutors revealed the text messages in a bid to explain how Ferguson landed almost $125 million in city revenue during Kilpatrick’s tenure as mayor.

The flurry of text messages and a series of battles over evidence Tuesday means prosecutors won’t rest their case against Kilpatrick, his father, and Ferguson until Thursday.

The case will take a one-day break Wednesday before defense lawyers continue cross-examining FBI Special Agent Robert Beeckman in federal court.

Updates have ended

View our archived coverage of Day 63: Feds end in flurry of Kilpatrick text messages.

Kwame Kilpatrick and Bobby Ferguson.

Kwame Kilpatrick and Bobby Ferguson.

Kwame Kilpatrick tried to hide his friendship with pal Bobby Ferguson from The Detroit News in 2003 and 2004, when prosecutors allege the mayor was steering lucrative city work to the contractor.

The News’ reporter Darci McConnell was asking about Kilpatrick and Ferguson, who had a $9 million contract to work on the taxpayer-funded Book Cadillac Hotel restoration project.

In July 2003, Ferguson sent Kilpatrick a text message, according to prosecutors.

Former Detroit News reporter Darci McConnell

Former Detroit News reporter Darci McConnell

“Darci just call me,” Ferguson wrote.

“Don’t call her back,” Kilpatrick texted.

“Damn, I already did,” Ferguson wrote. “You know I never call them back but I knew what she wanted and played dumb.”

“OK,” Kilpatrick wrote. “You should not have said s—.”

“OK, I really didn’t say s— that meant anything,” Ferguson texted.

McConnell was still asking questions in March 2004.

“Hey, Darci is asking me are we friends and do we travel together and do we talk on the phone,” Ferguson wrote in a text to the mayor.

“Don’t confirm none of that,” Kilpatrick wrote. “I am someone you support. You think I am doing a great job for the city.”

“Hell no,” Ferguson wrote. “I just told her we were friends, she know that.”

“LOL!” the mayor replied. “Tell Darci I used to be her friend.”

Kilpatrick’s communications director Dave Manney appeared pleased by the attempt to mislead McConnell.

“Sounds like Bobby handled Darci very well,” Manney texted the mayor. “Frankly, it sounded like he kicked the s— out of her!”

Other text messages revealed the depth of their friendship.

They traveled to the Super Bowl together in January 2003.

Text messages revealed Kilpatrick tapped Ferguson for $1,600 worth of tickets to the Super Bowl.

Ferguson told the mayor to open the safe in his hotel room.

Jerome Bettis

Jerome Bettis

“There’s $7,500,” Ferguson wrote in one text.

Kilpatrick’s mistress Christine Beatty was on the trip, too.

“Do you want to go with the mayor to Jerome Bettis’ cookout?” Beatty texted Ferguson, referring to the former NFL running back from Detroit.

“When and what time, yes,” Ferguson replied.

“Now,” Beatty wrote. “The mayor said bring the loot.”

Kwame Kilpatrick and Bobby Ferguson.

Kwame Kilpatrick and Bobby Ferguson.

The worlds of Kwame Kilpatrick and the Detroit Red Wings collided Tuesday at the City Hall corruption trial.

Testimony focused on a Red Wings game on March 31, 2003, that plays a pivotal role in Kilpatrick’s alleged attempts to steer work to pal Bobby Ferguson at the Book Cadillac hotel.

Prosecutors showed jurors text messages about the game Tuesday as the feds neared the end of their case against the former Detroit mayor, his father and Ferguson. A series of text messages portrayed Kilpatrick scheming behind the scenes to steer lucrative city deals to Ferguson.

In March 2003, the Red Wings were hosting the Nashville Predators. Kwame Kilpatrick had tickets for a suite and was meeting with the construction manager overseeing the $200 million restoration of the Book Cadillac hotel.

Prosecutors alleged that Kilpatrick tried to get Ferguson demolition work worth several million dollars at the Book Cadillac in 2003 and 2004.

At the Wings game, Kilpatrick met with officials from Alberici Constructors, which was managing construction at the hotel.

Kilpatrick brought Ferguson into the suite and introduced him to one of the executives, according to prosecutors.

Ferguson was his friend, Kilpatrick said, and would be “good” for the project, according to prosecutors.

From the indictment:

The Construction Management Firm representative believed that KWAME KILPATRICK was pressuring his firm to hire FERGUSON or risk adverse consequences to the Construction Management Firm’s future business prospects in the City.

Ferguson was later awarded a demolition contract at the hotel.

In May 2004, someone stole equipment from Ferguson’s workers at the hotel site. The theft drew police and news crews to the downtown landmark hotel.

“I am famous now,” Ferguson texted the mayor. “Just need to get some money.”

“Lol! right,” Kilpatrick replied. “Let’s get you some.”

Ferguson corrected his powerful pal.

“Us,” Ferguson texted.

Christine Beatty

Christine Beatty

In all, Ferguson’s company received almost $9.2 million in revenue while working on the hotel project.

In April 2003, Kilpatrick and his mistress Christine Beatty exchanged texts about a deal to build a new police headquarters.

Beatty was surprised Ferguson wasn’t getting the job.

“Why not Bobby in this?” Beatty texted the mayor.

“Bobby wanted to strategically lose a major bid,” Kilpatrick wrote. “He will be on this one at bid time.”

In another series of texts, Ferguson and Kilpatrick discussed a housing project in October 2002.

Ferguson complained about city housing officials.

“Those guys in housing are stupid than a f—,” Ferguson texted the mayor.

Bernard Kilpatrick, left, and Kwame Kilpatrick.

Bernard Kilpatrick, left, and Kwame Kilpatrick.

Prosecutors played a wiretapped phone call between Kwame Kilpatrick and his father that showed a comical attempt to talk in code, presumably because the men feared the feds were listening.

The call happened in November 2007 as the FBI increased pressure on the mayor and his father, whose phone was being tapped by the FBI.

The call on Nov. 15, 2007, was one week after an FBI agent left his business card at the home of Michael Tardif, the mayor’s political consultant and two months after news broke that former Kwame Kilpatrick aide Marc Andre Cunningham was caught in an FBI sting operation.

During the call, Kilpatrick and his dad are referring to Tardif, but intentionally avoiding the man’s name.

“That little guy…that little guy, you got to stay away from that little guy,” Kwame Kilpatrick says.

Tardif is white and 5-feet-4-inches tall.

“Little guy?” Bernard Kilpatrick asks.

“Your favorite white brother,” Kwame Kilpatrick says.

“Wow,” his father says, clearly stumped. “You mean Arab?”

“Nah, nah,” Kwame Kilpatrick says.

(Dad laughs)

“I’m talking about the little white guy,” his son says.

“I have no idea,” Bernard Kilpatrick says.

Bobby Ferguson

Bobby Ferguson

Prosecutors played another wiretap conversation showing Bernard Kilpatrick leaning on contractor Bobby Ferguson for cash in August 2007.

Bernard Kilpatrick was about to take a trip to Orlando, Fla.

“I need about two grand,” Bernard Kilpatrick said. “I”m working on a thing, it might come through, I may not need it. Have a couple in your back pocket, man, in case.”

Prosecutors allege Kwame Kilpatrick steered work to Ferguson, who shared proceeds of the alleged racketeering conspiracy with the mayor and his father.

Under cross examination, FBI Special Agent Robert Beeckman said there is no evidence Ferguson gave the mayor’s father money following the conversation.

Susan Van Dusen, left, seen with Kwame Kilpatrick, center, and Bobby Ferguson at the federal courthouse in August. (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)

Susan Van Dusen, left, seen with Kwame Kilpatrick, center, and Bobby Ferguson at the federal courthouse in August. (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)

Bobby Ferguson’s lawyer tried to blunt testimony about $2.5 million in cash and checks flowing through various accounts by pointing out dozens of checks went toward business expenses and paying college tuition for his kids.

Prosecutors, however, suggested the cash withdrawals coincided with the time Ferguson was sharing proceeds of criminal activities with his pal, ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Defense lawyer Michael Rataj showed jurors dozens of checks Tuesday that went toward business expenses and his daughters’ college tuition. One daughter attended Kilpatrick’s alma mater — Florida A&M University.

manhole

The feds have a saying.

Sometimes they find a crime, sometimes they just find slime.

City Hall corruption investigators found plenty of both in the City Hall corruption case based on scores of convictions and some of the most memorable moments of the five-month-old trial.

Sticky sludge

The alleged Kilpatrick Enterprise allegedly was fueled with cash siphoned from Detroit Water and Sewerage Department contracts. The trial has offered insight into a cash-rich department that, based on trial testimony, had few redeeming qualities.

City engineers leaked inside tips to contractor pals. Black entrepreneurs created sham companies to capitalize on rules favoring Detroit-based firms. Kilpatrick appointees, meanwhile, were looking out for favored contractors.

“We were looking out for Bobby at every opportunity,” star witness and former Kilpatrick aide Derrick Miller testified.

Star makes dramatic entrance

Derrick Miller

Derrick Miller

Miller’s debut in early January injected fresh drama into the corruption trial and helped prosecutors focus on allegations that Kilpatrick headed a criminal racket inside City Hall.

Miller described how the Detroit mayor ordered underlings to steer city contracts to his pal Bobby Ferguson and testified he handed Kilpatrick payoffs and kickbacks multiple times.

“Did he say anything?” during the payoffs, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow asked.

“Cool,” Miller said.

In all, Miller spent five days on the witness stand describing the inner workings of what prosecutors labeled a corrupt administration and racketeering conspiracy. The racketeering count is the premier criminal charge in the case, a 20-year felony.

Defense scores

Lakeshore is based in this building along Woodward in Detroit. The firm leased office space at one time to Kwame Kilpatrick's campaign.

Lakeshore is based in this building along Woodward in Detroit. The firm leased office space at one time to Kwame Kilpatrick’s campaign.

The top executive of a local construction firm who alleges he was pressured to hire Bobby Ferguson to get Detroit contracts admitted in late November that he had a close relationship with a city employee who oversaw the company’s city-paid work.

Lakeshore Engineering Services founder Avinash Rachmale acknowledged his close friend Dilip Patel — a city-paid supervisor — had an office at Lakeshore, a company email account and a Lakeshore-paid cellphone.

Yet, Rachmale testified that Patel was not a Lakeshore employee and was only a longtime friend.

Patel, Rachmale said, had open access to the Lakeshore building and took over an office without Rachmale’s knowledge.

Ferguson’s defense attorney, Gerald Evelyn, was incredulous.

“It just looked like he worked for Lakeshore?” he asked.

“That’s what your perception is,” Rachmale said.

Colorful counselor

Michael Rataj

Michael Rataj

Ferguson lawyer Michael Rataj is known for aggressive cross-examinations and a Grind Liner’s feistiness, but has flirted with a permanent seat in U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds’s woodshed.

In mid-December, Rataj blurted out “Jesus Christ” when a witness said one of his coworkers thought Ferguson was extorting him.

Edmunds, who has admonished Rataj in the past for his courtroom decorum, appeared to glare at him.

In early December, Rataj tried repeatedly to question contractor Tony Soave about behind-the-scenes moves related to a water department contract.

Soave couldn’t recall details and the judge repeatedly blocked the line of questioning after prosecutors objected.

Frustrated, Rataj demanded a private chat.

“Let’s have a sidebar!” Rataj said, walking to the side of the judge’s bench.

She stopped him.

“Do you get to call the sidebar?” Edmunds said.

Rataj froze.

Then, Edmunds called the sidebar.

Defense whopper

Christine Beatty and Kwame Kilpatrick

Christine Beatty and Kwame Kilpatrick

Defense lawyer James C. Thomas invented a fictitious group in early October to justify why the ex-mayor’s nonprofit group paid for a luxury trip to Colorado for Kilpatrick and mistress Christine Beatty.

While at the Sonnenelp Resort in Vail, Colo, the nonprofit group paid for manicures, pedicures and a “gentleman’s facial.” The lovers spent three nights in a $420-a-night room.

Thomas suggested the real purpose of the 2002 resort stay was for Kilpatrick to attend a meeting of the National Council of Mayors about 97 miles away in Denver.

There is no such group — a fact first reported by The News and pounced on by prosecutors soon after.

Damaging witness:

There was a mantra Kwame Kilpatrick’s scheduler April Edgar repeated while testifying in mid-October about how the former mayor allegedly defrauded donors by treated his nonprofit group like an ATM.

“The mayor told me to,” Edgar repeatedly said while explaining why she wrote Kilpatrick Civic Fund checks to put the mayor’s family up in luxury hotels, move them to Texas and pay his former mistress $110,000 to tout his career.

Edgar is the half-sister of mayoral mistress Christine Beatty.

“Did you ever feel uncomfortable writing these checks?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta asked Edgar.

“Toward the end I did,” she said.

Kilpatrick friends vs. family plan:

Ayanna Kilpatrick Ferguson outside federal court.

Ayanna Kilpatrick Ferguson outside federal court.

City contractors often griped about having to compete against the mayor’s pal Bobby Ferguson for taxpayer-funded deals.

But it was surprising to hear a complaint from Kilpatrick’s bankrupt sister, Ayanna Kilpatrick Ferguson, a recurring figure during the corruption trial.

“Here we go with this Bobby bull again,” Ayanna Kilpatrick wrote in a 2004 text message to former mayoral aide Derrick Miller. “Can we make a $ too?”

She filed bankruptcy in June, a financial reversal from a few years ago, during her brother’s term as mayor.

IRS records show she was paid $43,115 renting her house out in 2008 as the headquarters of the Kilpatrick Civic Fund, her brother’s scandal-plagued charity.

Teflon tycoon:

Tony Soave

Tony Soave

Grosse Pointe Farms tycoon Tony Soave arguably the government’s most accomplished, and colorful, witness seemed at home, and unruffled from the moment he grabbed a seat on the witness stand in early December.

The city contractor testified about allegedly being extorted by Kilpatrick out of private flights to Bermuda, a New York City shopping trip, $10,000 worth of court-side Detroit Pistons tickets and more.

“This seat’s warm,” Soave said Dec. 5, triggering laughter throughout the courtroom.

Soave, who sold his garbage-hauling company for $750 million, deflected defense attempts to paint him as too rich and powerful to be extorted by Kilpatrick & Co.

Resting an arm on the witness stand, Soave good-naturedly coped with questions about his memory of a long-ago, alleged attempt by Kilpatrick to steer work to Ferguson.

“I don’t have dementia if that’s what you’re saying,” Soave said.

That was a reference to fellow government witness Karl Kado, a former Cobo Center contractor whose mental health was in doubt during the trial.

Over-the-shoulder kickback holders:

Kwame Kilpatrick's fundraiser, Emma Bell, leaves federal courthouse Thursday after an explosive day of testimony. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Kwame Kilpatrick’s fundraiser, Emma Bell, leaves federal courthouse Thursday after an explosive day of testimony. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Kilpatrick fundraiser Emma Bell testified about giving the former mayor more than $286,000 in kickbacks — money she often transported in her bra.

The money found a safe home after Bell fished the cash out of her undergarments.

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

‘Badfellas’

Former Kilpatrick aide Marc Andre Cunningham kept laughing Dec. 21 during a serious line of questioning from Bernard Kilpatrick’s attorney John Shea.

From the trial vault:

After Shea made a reference to Cunningham knowing local consultant Chris Jackson because they were “part of that African-American circuit,” Cunningham started laughing.

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?”

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