DETROIT (Reuters) - Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick ran a criminal enterprise out of his office to enrich himself and family and friends, U.S. prosecutors said on Friday at the opening of Kilpatrick’s public corruption trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow told jurors the prosecution case would rely on testimony from former Kilpatrick associates and text messages to and from the former mayor in what is expected to be a four-month trial.
Kilpatrick’s attorney, James Thomas, denied the charges and countered that his client was a faithful public servant who had encountered fierce opposition from political foes.
If convicted Kilpatrick faces up to 30 years in prison for stealing millions from one of the poorest cities in the United States.
Kilpatrick and co-defendant Bobby Ferguson exchanged text messages such as, “‘Let’s get us some money,’ ‘No deal without me,’ ‘It’s my time to get paid’,” Chutkow told jurors.
The former mayor and two other co-defendants face a combined 46 counts including racketeering, extortion, bribery and income tax evasion.
Kilpatrick, now 42, was a rising political star in the Democratic Party when he was elected the youngest mayor in Detroit history in 2001. He resigned as part of a plea deal in a separate perjury case in 2008.
Kilpatrick pocketed kickbacks, bought $60,000 worth of custom-made suits, and paid off credit cards with $280,000 in cash, Chutkow said.
Ferguson, a construction company owner and long-time Kilpatrick friend, helped the ex-mayor rig $60 million in city contracts, Chutkow charged. Ferguson’s competitors for city contract work often called him “the king,” Chutkow said.
Thomas, the defense attorney, said the “snippets” of information in text messages fail to tell the whole story of Kilpatrick’s personal or professional relationships with his co-defendants.
“Politics is like making sausage: It’s not pretty and it’s messy, but, once it’s cooked, it tastes pretty good,” Thomas told the jury in his 20-minute opening statement.
“We’re here to tell you that he did not take any bribes, he did not extort anyone,” Thomas added.
Prosecutors can call on more than 200 witnesses and rely on 600,000 text messages exchanged on city-issued devices.
Kilpatrick, who is black, and his attorneys earlier this year tried to have the charges dropped because they claimed blacks were systematically excluded from federal grand jury pools in southeastern Michigan.
Among the dozen jurors, six are white, five are black and one is Hispanic. There are six alternate jurors.
Two other co-defendants that prosecutors say were involved in some of the schemes are Kilpatrick’s father, Bernard Kilpatrick, and former head of the city’s water department, Victor Mercado.
Testimony was scheduled to begin on Monday.
Editing by Daniel Trotta