Ferguson froze out black contractor; called him white man's puppet

Bobby Ferguson and Kwame Kilpatrick outside federal court.

Bobby Ferguson and Kwame Kilpatrick outside federal court.

Bobby Ferguson, a close friend of ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, called a fellow black contractor a “punk” and “puppet of the white man” in 2003 amid problems renovating the Book Cadillac hotel in downtown Detroit.

Contractor Odell Jones described a tense meeting in fall 2003 after the state Department of Environmental Quality found seven violations stemming from Ferguson’s work removing asbestos from the aging hotel.

Jones’ testimony was aimed at portraying Ferguson as a scheming pal of the former Detroit mayor who used those ties to prevent a fellow black contractor from winning city projects.

Amid the asbestos concerns, Jones met with Ferguson downtown in a parking lot to tell him about the violations.

“He indicated I had become a punk and a puppet of the white man,” Jones testified.

“What was your response?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Doeh asked.

“Probably disbelief,” Jones said.

Westin Book Cadillac hotel

Westin Book Cadillac hotel

“Did he suggest how the violations could be taken care of?” Doeh asked.

“He told me he would have the mayor call the governor,” Jones said.

Jones was concerned about work performed by Ferguson’s company on the Book Cadillac.

His employees did not have the proper equipment to remove asbestos, including respirators and protective suits.

Jones told him about the lack of safety equipment.

“What was Mr. Ferguson’s reaction?” Doeh asked.

“He was ambivalent,” Jones said. “He didn’t seem to care.”

After the Book Cadillac project, Jones said his city work evaporated.

Jones said he complained to Kilpatrick’s mother, sister and aides Christine Beatty and Derrick Miller.

The talks went nowhere even though Jones contributed money to Kilpatrick’s election and gave $10,000 to help renovate the Manoogian Mansion.

Manoogian Mansion

Manoogian Mansion

Jones’ money helped turn a room at the mayor’s official residence into a nursery for Kilpatrick’s children.

Jones took his complaints to the mayor. Again, the talks went nowhere.

What Jones didn’t know was that Ferguson and Kilpatrick were talking about him behind his back.

Prosecutors showed jurors text messages Wednesday from November 2003.

“Odell Jones (called) your mama, lol,” Ferguson texted.

“I know. And my sister,” Kilpatrick responded.

“Ok, I thought it was funny,” Ferguson wrote, “…I know he wasn’t s—.”

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