Kilpatricks named in city hall corruption indictments

The Detroit Free Press just reported that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has indicted former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, city contractor Bobby Ferguson, former top Kilpatrick aide Derrick Miller and former water department chief Victor Mercado as “part one of the largest public corruption investigations ever in the City of Detroit.”

In a news story, Jim Schaefer and M.L. Elrick — the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters who in 2008 broke the Kwame Kilpatrick text-message scandal that eventually forced the ex-mayor out of office — reported:

Miller and Ferguson are … close friends of the former mayor. Miller was a former basketball teammate of Kilpatrick’s at Cass Technical High School and later worked for his mother, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Detroit). In 2002, Kwame Kilpatrick appointed Miller as his chief administrative officer.

Ferguson, who owns a Detroit demolition and excavation company, became friends with Kilpatrick after Kilpatrick was elected state representative in 1996. They socialized, rode motorcycles together and Kilpatrick appointed Ferguson as the city’s cleanup czar. Under Kilpatrick’s tenure, Ferguson’s business with the city increased dramatically.

Mercado, who became the highest-ranking Hispanic city official when Kilpatrick named him head of the water department in 2002, said in September that he had testified before the federal grand jury in Detroit. At the time, he said he was told he was not the focus of the investigation.

Mercado, who was the general manager of the Bexar Metropolitan Water District in San Antonio, Texas, offered no further details.

Today’s announcement follows earlier convictions of several of Kilpatrick’s closest associates, including two brothers on his staff who were childhood friends, and charges of fraud and tax evasion against the ex-mayor himself.

Kilpatrick currently is in state prison on a separate matter: violating his probation on perjury-related charges in the text message scandal that led to his downfall.

The federal probe of Detroit City Hall, first reported by the Free Press in 2008, has already led to criminal charges against 20 people. Of those, 15 have been convicted of charges ranging from bribery to bid rigging, with many of the defendants cooperating with federal investigators.

The grand jury issued today’s indictments right up against deadline as the jury’s 36-month appointment limit runs out Dec. 31. Had the indictments not been issued, the federal government would have had to request an extension or start from scratch with another grand jury.

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