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Government: Kilpatrick government rife with "extortion, bribery, fraud"

Day one of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s federal public corruption trial wrapped up Friday.

The government says Kilpatrick and his three co-defendants were part of a conspiracy to commit “extortion, bribery, and fraud.”

US Attorney Mark Chutkow began opening arguments with excerpts of text messages between Kwame Kilpatrick and his co-defendant, longtime friend Bobby Ferguson.

Some of those messages read: “It’s my time to get paid” and “No deal without me.” Federal prosecutors say that sums up the so-called “Kilpatrick Enterprise.”

The government alleges that Kilpatrick and Ferguson pressured water department head Victor Mercado into steering lucrative contracts Ferguson’s way, to the tune of $120 million while Kilpatrick was mayor. The mayor and his father, political consultant Bernard Kilpatrick, then got a cut of that money.

The government also alleges that Kilpatrick used his non-profit, the Kilpatrick Civic Fund, “like a personal ATM.”

Using text messages, voicemails, and secretly-recorded videos, Chutkow painted Kilpatrick and his associates as arrogant criminals who brazenly extorted water department contractors, sought and received huge cash payments, and generally lived a “luxury lifestyle.”

In his opening statement, Mercado’s lawyer, Martin Crandall, sought to portray his client as someone well outside the “circle of trust” that ran the alleged enterprise. He said Mercado never took any “gratuities,” going so far as to turn down a ride on Detroit businessman and contractor Tony Soave’s yacht.

“He never had trouble in his life,” Crandall said. “His biggest trouble was coming to Detroit.”

The other defendants’ lawyers said there was never any enterprise, with the government overzealously looking for “a way to target” Kilpatrick. They painted prosecution witnesses, many of them city contractors and former Kilpatrick administration officials, as corrupt people testifying for the government in order to stay out of prison themselves.

Kwame Kilpatrick’s lawyer, James Thomas, said the jury will hear a lot of “sour grapes” from government witnesses.

“Politics is a tough business,” Thomas said. “We are going to show you the complete picture. There was no agreement to facilitate a crime.”

The trial resumes on Monday, and is expected to run for months.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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