Doubt On the third day of testimony in the federal corruption trial involving former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former city contractor Bobby Ferguson, U.S. attorneys brought two witnesses to the stand. But Ferguson and Kilpatrick’s defense teams crafted critical questions aiming to comb out faults in each witness’s account. The first witness called to testify on Tuesday was Mahlon Clift; a close college friend of the Kilpatrick’s who said the ex-mayor was also client of his jewelry broking business.
Clift testified that he received $90,000 in cash from Ferguson, which he later delivered to Kilpatrick in two installments: one $50,000 drop in Texas, the other $40,000 delivered to Kilpatrick in Detroit after his friend was having trouble paying restitution. Clift said that Ferguson gave no other instructions but to hold the $90,000 for “Black” a nickname Clift said had been used to refer to the former mayor. He then said that he “probably” took the money and hid it in the zipper sack on his household vacuum cleaner in the months between receiving it ad delivering it to Kilpatrick.
Defense attorneys focused on the fact that Clift’s memory of the transactions was spotty, as he used many terms in his testimony like “’maybe’, ‘probably’ and ‘I’m not sure.’” The defense lawyers said they were finding it hard to buy Clift’s story. They argued that Clift only testified in order to get immunity for crimes he committed and suggested he was not telling the truth about the alleged cash transaction between Ferguson and Kilpatrick. “You didn’t ask for a cut? Not even travel expenses?” Ferguson’s Attorney Mike Rataj asked. Clift replied that his friendship with Kilpatrick was deeper than money. “He’s a friend, someone that I love,” Clift said. He said that compensation for carrying large sums of cash across state lines for Kilpatrick “wasn’t necessary.” Rataj then asked how Clift got 90,000 in cash through airport security on his flight back to Chicago after getting the cash in Detroit.
Clift said he stuffed the cash—9 stacks of $10,000—into the pockets of his gym shorts and then put on a pair of baggy jeans over the shorts to cover it up. “That’s a lot of dough. You didn’t you look like the Michelin Man a little bit?” Rataj asked to chuckles in the courtroom. “I felt the bulge but it wasn’t visible,” Clift replied. “They [the pants] were loose enough that I looked normal. It was before the era of the skinny jean.” Kilpatrick’s lawyer James Thomas asked in the metallic ribbon in money used to identify bills set off the metal detectors at he airport. Clift said he had “no problem, whatsoever” secretly getting $90,000 in cash onto the plane. Rataj pointed out that there were no hotel receipts for those dates when he allegedly dropped money to Kilpatrick, despite the documentation of other trips Clift made to the city. “We have no documented evidence,” Rataj said.
After the cross examination, U.S. Attorney Mike Bullotta asked Clift a series of questions about his motive to testify. He asked if Clift knew he was doing anything illegal when he moved the cash to Chicago, Texas and back to Detroit. Clift said his motive to testify was to simply to “tell the truth” and that although he did not seek immunity, but he listened to his mother’s advice and got it anyway.
Despite Clift’s blurry recollections of details of the cash transactions, Bullotta wanted to make one thing clear. “Is there any doubt in your mind that you delivered $90 in cash to Kwame Kilpatrick that was given to you by Bobby Ferguson?” he asked Clift. “No,” Clift replied. “There is not.” The second witness was Detroit police officer Michael Fountain who said he dropped littering tickets against Ferguson after the contractor, flanked by two EPU officers, threatened Fountain’s family.
Ferguson’s Attorney Gerald Evelyn worked to shadow Fountain’s testimony in doubt, saying that Fountain must have a grudge against Ferguson, and asking why Ferguson’s threat was different from others he encountered as a police officer. Kwame Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, Ferguson and Detroit Water Department boss Victor Mercado are charged with rigging city contract bids and turning city hall into a racket for their private gain.