Judge, lawyers lighten up Kilpatrick trial with 'Tigers' talk - KMSP-TV

Judge, lawyers lighten up Kilpatrick trial with 'Tigers' talk

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By M.L. Elrick
FOX 2 News Investigative Reporter

DETROIT (WJBK) - Thursday was not a good day for Yankees fans in Detroit.

Just ask Max Berger.

Berger, a lawyer who represents Detroit's two city pension funds in security fraud cases, took a 6 o'clock flight from New York so he could testify that his firm was essentially rooked out of $30,000. The culprit? Ron Zajac, the pension funds' long-time lawyer, and the Kilpatrick Civic Fund, on whose behalf Zajac hit Berger up for big-time contributions to Kilpatrick's non-profit.

If that wasn't bad enough, Kilpatrick attorney Jim Thomas clowned him for being a Yankees fan, sneaking a lawyerly "would you believe the Yankees are going to lose tonight …" into one of his hypothetical cross-examination questions.

Prosecutor Michael Bullotta tried to provide Berger an out -- he was, after all, a prosecution witness -- by suggesting that Berger might be a Mets fan.

But Berger, who looked like even his diapers had pinstripes, said he favored the Bronx Bombers. Then he conceded: "They're going to lose anyway."

The coup de grace came after both sides finished questioning Berger.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds told him: "You are excused. You may step down and go home and weep about the Yankees."

It was a fitting jab from a mostly no-nonsense judge who has tried to lighten the mood for jurors with frequent references to the Tigers and her hopes that they will succeed.

And, of course, they did several hours later, clinching the American League pennant by completing a sweep of the Yanks with an 8-1 victory that marked the third straight time they had eliminated the Yankees from the playoffs.

While fair-weather fans are as common to winning teams as photos of Geoffrey Fieger are to Geoffrey Fieger's law offices, Thomas seemed to clear up any doubt about Edmunds' enthusiasm for the Tigers even before testimony started Thursday morning when he asked her: "So, did you buy beers for three hours waiting for the game to start?"

"I was lucky," she replied. "I was in a suite. So somebody else bought the beers."

Berger's testimony marked the end of the Kilpatrick Civic Fund chapter of the Kilpatrick & Co. trial. We heard a lot about how Kilpatrick and his crew spent the money on debatable items like trips and yoga lessons and crisis managers. And we heard a lot about how some of those expenses might be justifiable if they helped Kilpatrick woo benefactors, polish his image and maintain his ability to raise money for the non-profit established to improve voter turnout, neighborhoods and the city's image.

But as we turn the page to the chapter in which prosecutors say we'll hear plenty about the "culture of corruption" emanating from city hall that allegedly helped Kilpatrick and his associates extort millions, I can't help wondering why so much time, effort and money was spent on maintaining Kilpatrick's ability to raise more money, and why so little seemed to be spent carrying out the non-profit's mission.

Perhaps we'll hear more about that if and when the defense takes their turn to present their case for acquittal.

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 (@elrick) or Facebook. And catch him every Friday morning around 7:15 a.m. on Drew & Mike on WRIF, 101.1 FM. He is co-author of "The Kwame Sutra: Musings on Lust, Life and Leadership from Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick," available at www.kwamesutra.com. A portion of sales benefit the Eagle Sports Club and Soar Tutoring. Learn more at www.eaglesports.com.

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