Question It was a trip back in time on the fourth day of the Kilpatrick corruption trail proceedings when three witnesses testified to the potential misuse of state grants that former state legislator Kwame Kilpatrick requested in 2000.
The topic of the day stuck on a $300,000 state grant that was approved more than 12 years ago. Kilpatrick, then the House Democratic floor leader, got his wife Carlita a job at the non-profit that received the state funds that he had pushed for. Kilpatrick’s defense team argued that Carlita’s hire was an ethical issue, not a legal one.
U.S. Attorneys called in three witnesses; Dan DeGrow, former Michigan state senator and majority leader for the Republican Party, Mary Lannoye, former State Budget Director, and Donna Williams, former executive director of Vanguard, the non-profit arm of Second Ebenezer Church that received the $300,000 grant. Kilpatrick’s wife, Carlita Kilpatrick, was the focus of the testimony as it related to the state grant.
Carlita’s youth training company, UNITE, received $37,500 of the grant funds that were allocated to Vanguard. But Carlita never came close to completing the work she invoiced the non-profit for, Williams said in her testimony. Williams said that when she returned to work after her honeymoon in 2000, her boss, Bishop Edgar Vann, told her that Kwame Kilpatrick had visited him at his home and asked that Vanguard hire his wife to perform training services for youth and Vanguard staff.
“When I first heard about it, I was upset,” Williams said. “I didn’t like the circumstances of her hire.” Williams added that she liked Carlita and enjoyed the short time she spent working with her. “Had you been hiring other folks [with the grant money]?” U.S. attorney Michael Bullotta asked Williams. She said that other people hired with grant funds were paid after they finished the work.
“We hired staff and artists to set up workshops,” Williams said. “They provided an invoice and were paid after providing the services.” But Vanguard paid Carlita a $37,500 lump sum in advance of doing any work, Williams said. Williams said Vanguard never asked Carlita to fulfill the terms of her contract.
In fact, after Carlita told Williams she was taking a class and could no longer attend meetings with Vanguard staff, Williams never called her to pressure her to complete the work, or asked for a refund. Why? “This was not a normal grant,” Williams said adding that the requirements of the grant itself were very vague and the circumstances of Carlita’s hire were unique.
In order to receive all $300,000 of the state grant, Williams had to send documentation to the state that work was being done to improve the community. Williams said she attached all invoices in the documentation, including Carlita’s. “I got a phone call from Kwame Kilpatrick. He said that I had messed up, that I was not supposed to include the UNITE invoice,” Williams said adding that he sounded angry. “He said [Carlita’s] payment was supposed to come from some other funds but was not aware of any other money.”
The State became concerned about Vanguard’s grant usage when officials learned that Carlita was receiving funds from a grant that her husband had pushed for. In an unrelated incident, the state terminated the grant for use on housing projects that were not approved in the grant. But it was reinstated quickly with the conditions that they would not continue with the housing construction or hire Carlita again.
Lannoye testified that when she heard Kilpatrick’s wife was receiving funds from a grant that Kilpatrick had pushed for, she was upset and thought it was a breach of ethics. “I was angry at [Kwame] because these grants were supposed to go to help a community, not directly to a legislator,” Lannoye said. She said Kilpatrick was “nonchalant” when confronted about it. Kilpatrick’s attorney, James Thomas, highlighted the difference between unethical and illegal. He asked if Kilpatrick broke any laws or rules that applied to the grant. “Back then there were never rules and processes in place for dealing with these grants,” Degrow said in his testimony. But he said if he had known Carlita was going to be personally benefitting from the grant, he would have stopped it. “I don’t think I would have approved that contract,” he said. “You were concerned it was an ethical breach. Nothing illegal,” Thomas said.
Thomas asked both Lannoye and Degrow whether it was unusual for family members of state lawmakers to work for organizations funded by state grants. Both replied that it was unusual, but that it had happened before with no ethical questions because in those instances, the family members had “actually performed the work”. U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta asked Williams if she thought Carlita helped a single child in the school where she was hired to train youth. Williams said no.