DETROIT (AP) — A college buddy who was granted immunity by federal prosecutors testified Tuesday that he delivered $90,000 in cash to Kwame Kilpatrick in 2008 while the former Detroit mayor’s family was settling in Texas after his resignation.
Mahlon Clift said he gave $50,000 to Kilpatrick in Dallas in September 2008, after the ex-mayor had pleaded guilty to lying in a civil trial. He said the balance changed hands at a Detroit apartment a month later, just days before Kilpatrick began a jail sentence.
The source of the money is a key part of the government’s case in Kilpatrick’s federal corruption trial. Clift testified that money came from Bobby Ferguson, the owner of a Detroit construction company and a co-defendant in the case.
Kilpatrick, 42, is charged with bribery, fraud, racketeering conspiracy and tax crimes. He’s accused of extorting money from people who wanted business from the city when he was mayor and rigging contracts to help Ferguson. Kilpatrick’s father and Detroit’s former water boss are also on trial.
Ferguson had a gift bag full of cash and said “hold onto this for Black,” Clift told the jury, referring to a Kilpatrick nickname. “I assumed it was Kwame.”
Clift, a Chicago resident, said he’s known Kilpatrick since the 1980s when they were students at Florida A&M University.
“It was a friend in need. I was trying to be a good friend,” Clift said of his courier role.
Clift said he flew to Chicago from Detroit with $90,000 in his pockets — nine rubber-banded stacks of $10,000 each — and then stashed the cash inside a vacuum cleaner at home.
He said he never got specific instructions from Ferguson. Clift said Kilpatrick was silent when they met in Dallas for the $50,000 delivery. During the testimony, it was disclosed that Clift has an immunity agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office.
The defense tried to cast doubt on the story. Ferguson attorney Michael Rataj said Clift would have looked like the puffy “Michelin man” as he walked through airports with stacks of cash in shorts under his jeans.
Clift acknowledged that he still can’t remember the date when Ferguson gave him the money, despite the extraordinary circumstances.
Tuesday’s second witness was Officer Michael Fountain, who said he was threatened into dropping misdemeanor trash violations against Ferguson shortly after Kilpatrick took office in 2002. Ferguson had been ticketed for high weeds, broken-down vehicles and debris that attracted rats to his property.
Fountain said he was confronted in the courthouse by Ferguson and two police officers who were members of Kilpatrick’s security team. He said Ferguson told him, “Your family wouldn’t like this.”
Fountain said he canceled the tickets and told the judge that he had made mistakes. He testified that he feared “something could happen to me or my family.”
Kilpatrick, a Democrat and son of ex-U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, was a state lawmaker when he was elected mayor in 2001. He resigned in 2008 and pleaded guilty to obstructing justice by lying in a civil case about having sex with an aide. He subsequently served 14 months in prison for violating probation in that case.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.