As jury selection begins today in the bid-rigging trial against contractor Bobby Ferguson — longtime friend of ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick — the defense is intent on making a few points clear to the jury pool.
• Don’t confuse the defendants in this trial with Kilpatrick.
• This trial isn’t the same as the federal racketeering trial set for September, which involves Kilpatrick, his father, Bernard Kilpatrick, Ferguson and ex-Detroit water department boss Victor Mercado.
• If jurors have any negative thoughts about Kilpatrick, they shouldn’t hold it against Ferguson or his codefendants.
Defense lawyers expressed these concerns in court documents in the weeks leading up to trial.
“With the vast amount of pretrial publicity surrounding the former mayor, defense counsel has grave concerns about jurors potentially confusing the political corruption case with the federal contract case,” wrote defense lawyer Anthony Chambers, who also pointed out that intense news media coverage has helped create “an environment of hostility toward the defendants” and “preconceived notions of guilt.”
Ferguson, 43; Michael Woodhouse, 52, of West Bloomfield, and Calvin Hall, 42, of Detroit were indicted in 2010 on charges they fixed bids to help Ferguson win a nearly $12-million contract for a low-income, public housing project in Detroit.
The case has netted four guilty pleas — including one from Ferguson’s former key business associate, Shakib Deria, 42, of Troy, who has agreed to cooperate in the pending case against Ferguson. Three other codefendants also have agreed to testify against Ferguson.
Former Detroit Deputy Mayor Kandia Milton, who received a 14-month prison sentence in a separate bribery case in 2010, also is one of the government’s witnesses in the Ferguson case, according to newly disclosed court records. As part of his plea deal, Milton agreed to “provide truthful testimony at all proceedings” and help investigate other suspected crimes in exchange for the lighter sentence.
Ferguson also is awaiting trial in the separate public corruption case in which he, Kilpatrick, Bernard Kilpatrick and Mercado are accused of running a criminal enterprise through the mayor’s office to enrich themselves.
To make sure jurors don’t confuse the two trials and to weed out potentially biased jurors, U.S. District Judge David Lawson will first describe the case for the prospective jurors, asking whether anyone has any knowledge or opinions about it.
If biases are detected, Lawson could dismiss the jurors. The defense and prosecution also will get a chance to individually question jurors they have concerns with.
The goal is to whittle a pool of 100 people to 12 jurors and four alternates.
Jury selection is to start at 8:30 a.m. and is expected to last two to three days.
Read more from Tresa Baldas in the Detroit Free Press