DETROIT (AP) — A businessman portrayed himself Wednesday as a personal purveyor of luxury for then-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, providing free round-trip flights on private planes, a $6,000 watch during a New York shopping spree and courtside basketball tickets to the NBA Finals — all to keep favor with the leader of the troubled city.
Tony Soave told jurors that he was uncomfortable with the arrangement but didn’t want to cross the mayor and jeopardize any work with Detroit. He was a government witness on the 35th day of a corruption trial, a sweeping case of alleged extortion, bribery and rigged contracts during Kilpatrick’s nearly seven years in office.
“It’s hard to turn a mayor down,” said Soave, the head of Soave Enterprises, based in Detroit. “I didn’t want to get on the wrong side of him. I wanted to keep him happy.”
Soave said Kilpatrick, sometimes accompanied by family, took 20 round-trip flights aboard his planes to destinations that included the Bahamas, Florida, New York and Texas. He said he finally asked about being reimbursed for the travel, which was worth $389,000.
Kilpatrick “said he would look into it,” Soave recalled. “I was getting concerned. It was getting to be more than a little bit.”
But the mayor never paid, said Soave, who also paid for a $6,000 Cartier watch, a $1,200 purse and an $800 pair of shoes during a New York shopping trip. He said Kilpatrick gave the watch to his father, Bernard Kilpatrick, as a Christmas present.
Soave said he paid $10,000 for two courtside seats for Kilpatrick at the 2004 NBA Finals between the Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers. Three years later, he said he paid at least part of a $9,300 tab for a five-day stay at a Ritz-Carlton hotel in Naples, Fla.
Soave said he met Kilpatrick in 2002, after the newly elected mayor took office, and asked why the city was holding up a $50 million sewer contract awarded to his company.
“He told me I had the wrong subcontractor,” Soave testified. “I think I asked, ‘What’s the right one?’ He told me Ferguson was the right one. I told him, ‘OK, I’ll make a change.'”
Soave was referring to Kilpatrick’s pal, Bobby Ferguson, who also is on trial along with Bernard Kilpatrick. Speaking slowly but bluntly, Soave didn’t hide his scorn for Ferguson in front of the jury.
“He was a troubling contractor for us. He wanted more work, more money, more things all the time. … I mentioned to the mayor, ‘Is Bobby Ferguson still your guy? He said, ‘Yes, he’s still my guy,'” Soave said.
When Ferguson, who had an excavating business, proposed they become 50-50 partners on future public projects, Soave said he rejected the idea with a four-letter expletive. Defense attorneys will get a chance to cross-examine him Thursday.
Earlier Wednesday, an Internal Revenue Service agent said Bernard Kilpatrick deposited $605,000 in cash in his bank account while his son was mayor. Bernard Kilpatrick is accused of shaking down businesses that wanted deals from the city.
Agent Rowena Schuch conceded that she didn’t know the specific source of his cash. Defense attorney John Shea said the elder Kilpatrick “gambled all the time” and may have deposited his winnings. Schuch, however, was skeptical.
“It’s not uncommon for gamblers to hoard cash,” Shea said during cross-examination.
Kwame Kilpatrick, a Democrat whose mother is former U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, 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 his probation in that case.