Defendant Bobby Ferguson's defense lawyer Gerald Evelyn argued Monday that his client didn't get preferential treatment in the city of Detroit and that if the contractor got work it was because he had earned it. It was the fifth and last day on the stand for government star witness Derrick "Zeke" Miller. The witness, a former best friend of defendant Kwame Kilpatrick's, has already struck a plea deal with the government. Miller pleaded guilty to violation of a federally funded program and tax evasion. His potential prison sentence is up to 10 years but he could get less than that for his cooperation in this case. Evelyn outlined a case for his client getting contract work with the city of Detroit because he had earned it. Evelyn got Miller to agree that Ferguson Enterprises Inc was one of maybe two or three minority contractors that did very specific excavation work. When Miller struggled to recall the names of the other firms, Evelyn concluded it was because Ferguson had the most prominent minority excavating firm in the city. Evelyn brought up meeting minutes from the Detroit Building authority (DBA) on June 19th 2003 which discussed a joint venture contract between White construction and Ferguson's Xcel Construction. The $1.3 million contract was awarded to the White/Xcel joint venture in April 2002. An additional $900,000 was added on to the initial amount bringing the total up to $2.2 million. However, White/Xcel was able to finish $338,000 under budget. Evelyn pointed to Robert Hill of the DBA commenting in the minutes about what an excellent job White and Xcel had done for coming under budget.
Evelyn further made mention of Ferguson's involvement in the Book Cadillac renovations. The project, which was overseen by the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and the Detroit Downtown Authority, came to a standstill at one point when initial developer Kimberly-Clark pulled out because of a $25 million shortfall. Miller agreed that the project was rebid and Ferguson was selected because he submitted a competitive bid. Miller also agreed that it was not only Ferguson who had the former mayor's ear. The list of those with easy access to Kilpatrick included Compuware CEO Peter Karmanos, recently deceased Greektown developer Ted Gatzaros, Walbridge Aldinger CEO John Rakolta and local business magnate Tony Soave. Evelyn pointed out that consultant Bernard Parker III, an earlier witness in this trial, also had easy access to the mayoral administration including to Miller himself. Evelyn also addressed the issue which had been raised in Miller's direct testimony about complaints from other contractors and City Council about Ferguson exceeding the limits of his contractual work. One such minority contractor who supposedly complained about Ferguson impacting his work was Mike Farrow. Evelyn introduced City Council minutes from 2004 which listed several minority contractors, including the Farrow Group and Ferguson Enterprises Inc, which had been awarded contract work for the demolition of residential structures.
Not only that said Evelyn, but sometimes work was taken away from Ferguson to give to others. The defense lawyer called on the witness to recall talking to Parker in 2005 about work on contract 849. Parker was with Insituform at the time which was involved in the project. Miller remembered talking to Parker about possibly rolling some of the 10 Outfalls contracts into Insituform's 849. And this was even though Ferguson Enterprises jointly with Lakeshore Engineering had submitted a bid proposal for those very same Outfalls contracts. Evelyn also tackled other claims that had been made in direct testimony. The government had argued that on contract 748, Baby Creek, Kilpatrick had used his Special Administratorship over Detroit Water and Sewerage Depratment (DWSD) contracts to award the $73 million contract to Walbridge and Ferguson. Evelyn argued that the Special Adminstrative Order was not signed in April 2003 as a favor to Ferguson but because it was done to speed up a delay caused by a 3 month pushback on the bid proposals date. There was the issue of Ferguson's city ID badge. Miller testified last week that Ferguson had his own ID for special access to the former mayor's office. Evelyn got the witness to concede that it could have been because of Ferguson's involvement as co-chair of the Motor City Makeover project. Miller had also testified last week that he had showed up to a meeting in December 2005 at Detroit's Mosaic restaurant between Ferguson and Inland Waters Pollution Control executive Dennis Oszust. Jurors had heard testimony about an amendment to DWSD contract 1368 being held up because Ferguson felt he was owed more money from Inland.
Miller testified that he showed up at Ferguson's request to underscore for Oszust Ferguson's strong sway with the city. Evelyn argued that around this time another contract, 1369, was also underway between Ferguson and Inland so there was no way of knowing for sure which contract was being discussed. Finally, Evelyn reminded the courtroom as had Kilpatrick's lawyer before him that Miller had plenty to gain as a cooperating witness in terms of a sentence reduction. And as for Miller's testimony about his conversation with former DWSD head Victor Mercado in late 2007 where he warned Mercado about not getting in trouble with the law, Evelyn questioned how someone who admitted to acting illegally and taking bribes would have bothered to comment on someone else's conduct. On redirect, U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow asked Miller if anyone from the government had asked him to tailor his testimony. Miller replied that they had not. Chutkow also asked Miller to recall what Kilpatrick's reaction was when he found out that a donor's list for the Kilpatrick Civic Fund had been accidentally filed by lawyer William Phillips in April 2001. Miller responded that Kilpatrick was very upset by the incident and had felt that Phillips had "messed up." Finally, Chutkow asked the witness if his involvement in the trial had come at any personal cost. "My wife and I are divorcing," answered Miller. James Thomas, Kilpatrick's lawyer, tried to drive home the fact that Miller had not listed his family as his number one priority last week. Miller responded that he didn't think that way and that several things were equally as important to him as family including happiness, enlightenment and atonement. When Miller equated his son being as important to him as his faith, Thomas asked if the witness even went to church. "I don't go to church. I'm not a Christian," replied Miller as he finished his testimony. Court resumes Tuesday morning at 9AM.
About the author
Alexandra Harland is a Princeton undergrad and has a masters degree in International affairs with Columbia. A Montreal native, she worked with the Daily Telegraph newspaper for a few years before transitioning to TV, when she worked at ABC News with Peter Jennings. Alexandra has also worked in newsrooms in both Detroit and Boston.