Kilpatrick Enterprise extorted mogul? Inconceivable, defense contends

Bobby Ferguson’s lawyer launched a cross-examination of businessman Tony Soave on Thursday by exhaustively listing the mogul’s business ventures to show jurors the entrepreneur”s power and wealth — some of which allegedly benefited ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Defense lawyers contend Soave was so rich and powerful that it is inconceivable the mogul could be extorted by Kilpatrick and co-defendants and intentionally aligned himself with powerful politicians.

Tony Soave

Soave has interests in car dealerships, an aviation company, residential construction, a scrapyard, a cab company and a hydroponic greenhouse operation — so many ventures that he couldn’t recall all the details.

One of his former firms, Inland Waters, factors into the City Hall corruption indictment and an allegedly shady sewer deal.

Ferguson lawyer Michael Rataj cited a Forbes article listing Soave Enterprises as one of the country’s largest private companies and asked if he was worth $2.5 billion.

“I don’t know where you got that,” Soave said.

Rataj asked about one related firm, MPS Trading.

“What does MPS stand for?” Rataj asked.

“I don’t know,” Soave said. “I just know the initials. I didn’t chose that name.”

“Do you know how many companies you own?” Rataj asked.

“No,” Soave said.

“Is it over 50?” Rataj asked.

“I can check for you if you want,” Soave said.

Either way, Soave is rich, Rataj argued.

“It’s a lot of muchachos,” Soave said.

“I’d take about one-tenth of that,” Rataj said.

Ex-Detroit Mayor Coleman Young

Rataj said Soave had close ties with politicians, including former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young and ex-Michigan Gov. John Engler.

“You would admit that it is good to be friends with politicians,” Rataj said.

“It is good to be friends with the mayor in the city you’re working,” Soave said.

“The reason you curry friendships with politicians is for access, right?” Rataj asked.

“Yes,” Soave said.

Soave also hired politically connected bureaucrats, Rataj said.

One example: Former Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Charlie J. Williams, who at one time served as Young’s chief of staff.

Williams was a minority subcontractor on a $50 million sewer deal until Kilpatrick allegedly told Soave he was the reason the city deal had stalled.

Ferguson — the mayor’s pal — was the right subcontractor, Kilpatrick allegedly said.

Soave dumped Williams and hired Ferguson, according to testimony — paving the way for the deal’s approval.

Williams’ company had no employees and no equipment, Rataj said.

“Charlie Williams was nothing more than a minority front,” Rataj told Soave.

“That is not true,” Soave said.

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