Kilpatrick's defense team questions witnesses' reliability - KMSP-TV

Kilpatrick's defense team questions witnesses' reliability

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DETROIT (WJBK) -

My name's come up a couple times in federal court this week and, no, it's not for anything I did in the late 80s and early 90s.

(Besides, the statute of limitations expired a long time ago on that stuff.)  The mentions have been in relation to work I did several years ago with Jim Schaefer and other colleagues at the Detroit Free Press. And while no one has questioned the accuracy of those stories -- in fact, they have proven quite prescient -- the reliability of some of the people we spoke with has become an important issue for defense attorneys during this first week of the Kwame Kilpatrick & Co. trial.

First, there's Michael Fountain, who said Bobby Ferguson delivered a thinly-veiled threat to his family if he didn't dismiss littering tickets issued to Ferguson's company.

Schaefer and I broke the littering tickets story a month or so after Kilpatrick took office in 2002. The tickets were significant not so much because Ferguson was Kilpatrick's good buddy, but because he was one of two men Kilpatrick had named a Clean-up Czar. With Ferguson's help, Kilpatrick said, he would scrub the city. The fistful of tickets Fountain, a Detroit cop, had issued for abandoned vehicles and heaps of garbage on Ferguson's property on Military Street in southwest Detroit raised questions about Kilpatrick's choice and his judgment.

Fountain testified Tuesday that he met me, and then Schaefer, in 36th District Court in 2002 after he got the tickets dismissed by telling officials he had written them in error. He also testified that he spoke to us, but only to say no comment.

I can't speak for the veracity of Fountain's account of his encounter with Ferguson.

I can say I don't believe I was in court day that day or ever met Fountain. It's possible he confused me with Schaefer. Even though Schaefer and I are only four years apart -- and bear only a slight resemblance -- my prematurely gray-haired reporting partner was once mistaken for my father. "Your son favors you," an older gent told him one afternoon when we out pounding the pavement. (Boy, did THAT piss Schaefer off!) That doesn't explain, however, why Fountain might think he met both of us.

Additionally, based on my review of our story, it's pretty clear Fountain did speak to Schaefer in court on that day in 2002. And he said more than "no comment."

My second mention came Thursday, when Donna Williams, the former executive director of Vanguard Community Development Corporation, testified about the night in 2008 when Schaefer and I asked how Carlita Kilpatrick happened to get a piece of a $300,000 state grant then-state Rep. Kwame Kilpatrick helped secure for Vanguard in 2000.

Schaefer and I had been trying to confirm the story for years. We finally got the break we needed when one of the Free Press' esteemed state house reporters, Dawson Bell, came up with the missing piece of the puzzle. Bell's reporting confirmed not only that Carlita Kilpatrick and her company had dibs on $75,000 of Vanguard's grant, it showed that she received $100,000 of a $500,000 state grant her husband steered to a non-profit Ferguson founded.

Schaefer and I sat in Williams' living room during the height of the 2008 text message scandal as she told us that Kilpatrick did not force her to hire his wife.

That account differed from her testimony Thursday, when she said Kilpatrick made it clear that if Vanguard wanted the grant, she had no choice but to hire Carlita Kilpatrick and her company, Using Nonviolence to Influence Total Education, Inc.

(In the end, the future First Lady got only $37,500 because state officials threatened to cut off Vanguard's funding after learning that a lawmaker's wife was in line to get so much of a grant that was meant for arts programming.)  The rest of Williams' testimony -- that she liked Carlita Kilpatrick, but didn't feel that Vanguard got its money's worth out of her -- was consistent with her testimony.

It will be up to the jury to evaluate the significance of the discrepancies between our reports and the testimony they heard. Do Williams and Fountain have an agenda, as defense attorneys implied, or are their memories just a bit off about incidents that happened more than decade ago?

As for me, I don't mind hearing my name mentioned in court -- as long as it's not part of an indictment.

Follow M.L. Elrick's coverage of the Kilpatrick & Co. trial daily on Fox 2 and at www.myfoxdetroit.com. Contact him at ml.elrick@foxtv.com or via Twitter or Facebook.

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