A lawyer claimed Derrick Miller, a key government witness in the City Hall corruption case against ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, was being protected by federal officials in an undisclosed location — and then promptly withdrew the allegation in a court filing.
Jerome Watson, an attorney at Detroit law firm Miller Canfield, yanked the allegation Sunday hours after being contacted by The Detroit News.
Watson wrote in a federal court filing Friday that Miller was being protected at a distant location because he is a witness in a “high profile criminal prosecution.” Miller’s lawyer denied the allegation.
The conflicting reports raised questions about Miller’s safety after reaching an agreement to testify against Kilpatrick, his childhood friend and former boss.
Speculation about Miller’s whereabouts emerged in connection with a civil lawsuit involving Miller, Kilpatrick and others. The city of Detroit has tried unsuccessfully to serve Miller with a court summons since May but has been unable to find him.
“An investigation … concluded that defendant Miller is under some form of federal protection – whether formal or informal – in a distant location, as he is a key witness in a high-profile criminal prosecution,” wrote Watson, who is representing the city of Detroit in a sewer lawsuit against Kilpatrick, Miller and others.
Miller, who moved from Detroit to Falls Church, Va., after leaving the Kilpatrick administration, is not under federal protection, his lawyer said.
“That’s not true at all,” defense attorney Byron Pitts said. “Whoever said that doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”
The U.S. Marshals Service is responsible for protecting government witnesses. The U.S. Marshals Service provides 24-hour protection to witnesses before and during trials.
“The United States Marshals Service does not comment on the matter of witness security nor identify anyone who may or may not be a participant,” Marshals Service spokesman Matt Batcheller said Sunday.
Miller, 42, is expected to testify against Kilpatrick in federal court as the first witnesses take the stand in the corruption trial. He was an original member of the alleged Kilpatrick Enterprise, and allegedly gave Kilpatrick a $10,000 powder-room payoff, but later pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the feds.
His cooperation is expected to help prosecutors secure potentially damaging testimony from a former member of Kilpatrick’s inner circle.
Co-defendant Bernard Kilpatrick’s lawyer John Shea was unaware of any threats against Miller.
“No, absolutely not,” Shea said Sunday. “This is the first I’ve heard of any sort of federal protection or that anyone is concerned about threats or anything like that with respect to Derrick. The last thing anybody in this case needs is stuff like that. Is Derrick Miller an important witness? Yeah. But is he the most important witness? Is he the witness the whole case is going to turn on? I don’t think of any witness like that.”