U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade visited the offices of the Michigan Chronicle for another sit-down interview with senior editor Bankole Thompson to discuss the recent indictments against former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father, Bernard Kilpatrick, ex-top mayoral aide Derrick Miller, city contractor Bobby Ferguson and former Detroit Water and Sewage Department boss Victor Mercado.
MICHIGAN CHRONICLE: When you say this indictment brings an end to the investigation into the Kwame Kilpatrick inner circle, what do you mean?
BARBARA MCQUADE: Yes, I think so. One of the questions I get asked frequently is that we as a city are under such a cloud of suspicion, when is this going to end, when is there going to be such a closure? So I really felt that it was important to communicate that we hope this is the end for the health of the city. It is important that we can move forward. That people who want to do contracting with the City of Detroit feel confident that the culture of corruption is over.
You can never say we are not going to find any more cases. We have some little, other investigations going on. But in terms of the significant big case involving the Kilpatrick administration, this is it. I don't want people to think that there is some another shoe yet to drop. I think it is very important to send that message. One of the things we talked about before was trying to bring a sense of urgency to this investigation so it could bring some closure. And, I'm hopeful that is what we have done.
MC: Did you feel rushed to announce these indictments because of reports that the term of the grand jury was set to soon expire?
BM: No. It is not uncommon to republish a case to a new grand jury so we would have done that if we needed to. But, we actually set the target date many months ago knowing what the grand jury schedule was. There were many witnesses who needed to come before the grand jury. And, so you know there are only so many hours of the day when you can get them in. So we came up with a timeline budget of how much time we needed to get everybody in before then.
They (grand jury) had one more week that they were sitting so we finished one week earlier. We were glad to do that. Although we wanted to push this case as quickly as possible, we also wanted to do it as thoroughly as possible. And, if we felt that we weren't done and needed more time we certainly would have republished another grand jury.
MC: Thoroughly as possible means an 89-page indictment?
BM: Yeah it does. And, if you've read it I think it is thorough, detailed. Sometimes when indictments come out it just says "so and so committed extortion, bribery." But, we thought in this instance it was very important both to apprise the defendants of precisely of what it is they are charged with so they can prepare defense at trial and also to let the community know this is exactly what these defendants are charged with.
But, it is a trick because if you make it (indictment pages) too long it's not even digestible for a jury, so we worked pretty hard to get it as short as possible. You know that Mark Twain quote about "I'm sorry I wrote you such a long letter I didn't have time to write a shorter one." We actually did pare it down as best as we could and spent a lot of time to make it as concise as possible. But, it alleges some pretty sweeping corruption so it takes all those pages to detail every one of the schemes.
MC: Historically, the Rackateer Influenced and Corrupt Organzations Act (RICO) has been used to go after the mob, drug kingpins, etc. There are some who are suggesting that the use of RICO in the case against Kilpatrick and his cabal might be just another case of piling on. Is that the case?
BM: I thought RICO was the appropriate charge in this case. It goes after organizations that used the power of an organization to commit a variety of crimes over long periods of time called a pattern of racketeering activity. I thought this is precisely what we have here. We saw Kwame Kilpatrick use the mayor's office and even his position as state representative as an avenue for corrupt acts to make money. He used it for bribery, extortion and to defraud donors, so we thought it was the appropriate tool for that. We use it sparingly. It requires approval by the Department of Justice in Washington which we obtained. We recognize it's a powerful tool, but we thought it was appropriate for a case of this magnitude.
MC: Are you 100 percent confident you will win convictions on all of these charges?
BM: No, I will never be 100 percent confident of convictions.
MC: But are you very confident that you will win convictions?
BM: It is a strong case but certainly the decision about guilt or innocence is to be decided by a jury, which requires 12 strangers to agree unanimously beyond a reasonable doubt which is very standard and it should be.
But, we wouldn't bring this case if we didn't think we could succeed.
MC: Given that the fall of the Kilpatrick administration, has been so publicized in this area, how do you put together an unbiased jury?
BM: That would be a challenge. The question I'm sure the jurors would be asked between jury selection is not "Have you ever heard of them?" because no doubt everyone in this community, unless you've been hiding under a rock, has heard of them. And, if they haven't we probably don't want them to be juror because they aren't engaged enough in the community.
The question would be, "In light of what you've heard and may have read, can you set that aside and decide this fairly based on the evidence that you hear in court and only on that evidence?"
My guess is there would be some very rigorous questioning of potential jurors. But, I'm confident we can find a fair jury in this community who would be able to decide the case based on the evidence they hear in court. My experience with juries is that they take their duties very seriously, they understand the magnitude of their decisions, the collective wisdom of the 12 people is great. I'm confident we can get a fair trial here.
MC: Why aren't some of the contractors involved in the corruption that led to this latest round of indictments not indicted?
BM: Although it's been a long time coming, there are some contractors who were convicted who are part of this. They were involved in some of the bribery scheme. Karl Kado, John Rutherford, James Rosendale, Rayford Jackson. There are four or five contractors who pled guilty and their conduct is included as part of this and their cooperation is likely to be a part of this case. In addition, there are other contractors who can probably be more properly characterized as victims. Based on our review of the evidence, we did not see evidence that would show that they were guilty of committing crimes, but more that they were coerced into participating in these contracts with Bobby Ferguson.
Certainly I supposed they went along with it. They were told 'if you want to keep your contract these are the conditions', and (they) went along with it. But, it's a difficult thing to weigh when you crossed the line from being a victim to being someone who is complicit. But, no doubt we gave some people immunity in exchange for their cooperation. That's the reality of these cases.
MC: How many people got immunity? Hundreds?
BM: I don't think the number is 100 and I don't know the answer.
MC: What role, if any, did Christine Beatty play in your investigations or was she given a free pass in exchange for cooperation?
BM: No, she wasn't given a free pass. She is not someone we've ignored, but I guess I don't want to comment beyond that.
MC: Its been reported that the pension board is under federal scrutiny. Is that the next shoe to drop?
BM: I don't want to comment on that.
MC: Bernard Kilpatrick fired back before the indictments were released, saying basically that your office is lining up criminals to testify against him and his son. Does that affect the credibility of the witnesses that you are preparing?
BM: Well, I think we'll see at trial what witnesses, who they are, what they will have to say. But as you can see from reading the indictments it's not solely based on witness testimony. There is documented evidence as well. There are text messages as well. I am confident that the trial will show what our evidence is and that we'd be successful. But, it's for a jury to decide.
MC: How sure are you that you will get a conviction?
BM: You know you can never speculate on that because everybody is entitled to a fair trial. There is all kinds of uncertainty in the trial process. It's not something that typically we'll give an opinion on. But we don't bring a case like this unless we believe there is a reasonable likelihood of success at trial. That is the Department of Justice standard. We believe that standard has been satisfied and we are prepared to go forward.
We've lost these cases from time to time over the years. But, I don't think you can be afraid to take one on just because you've lost in the past. They are hard cases. Show me a lawyer who has never lost a case and I'll show you one who is afraid to take the hard ones. We're willing to take them.
MC: How much in dollar amount would these prosecutions cost?
BM: I really can't say. It's difficult to quantify because we pay our people based on salary. If they weren't working on this case they'd still be there. They'll just be working on something else. I can't think of a case that would be more important for them to spend their resources on and their time on. I think its been money well spent. But, no doubt if they haven't spent the last six years working on this, they would worked on numerous other cases.
MC: Why did you feel the need to point out that Ayanna Kilpatrick and outgoing Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick were found to have done nothing wrong?
BM: Well, I was specifically asked that question. I didn't volunteer it. You know sometimes people may assume guilt by association and there is no evidence in our indictment that they did anything wrong. So, I thought it was our obligation to answer that question.
MC: During our first interview you talked about mock trials you conduct to try out your cases. Is that what you did with these indictments?
BM: We did. We actually had two rounds of it. We had a small group that did the vetting of the case of indictments several weeks ago. Actually, we've done it at various stages. We've had several meetings on the case. And, then we had a very big one a week ago where some of the key people in the office came in and it lasted many hours, where we asked several questions, sorted our presentation - what's the evidence on each of these schemes to make sure that it was solid and well vetted. I'm sure we'll do it again before trial to make sure our strategy is sound and we anticipate all of the defenses we can think of.
MC: When you say you have hundreds of witnesses are you literally saying you that number of witnesses?
BM: Well, hundreds of witnesses were questioned. But, how many would actually be called for the trial I don't know that number. Sometimes you talk to a witness and they don't know anything. So, just because they were questioned doesn't mean we'll present them as a witness at trial. What that witness list will look like at trial we don't know yet. We'll have to see how that shapes out.
MC: Looking ahead into 2011, what would your focus be? Is it going to be public corruption, violent crime or the civil rights unit you created?
BM: Well, I'm hopeful that now that we've moved past this big case certainly we'll have a lot of lawyers preparing for this trial and getting ready to go. Maybe we can turn our focus to help this city move forward. Our violent crime is a very important thing. We are hoping to do some very exciting things in civil rights. We have some very good cases and some very good investigations pending. We want to do a lot more outreach in terms of civil rights, let people know what we have available. So, we've been already meeting with some community groups and civil rights groups so when people feel like their civil rights are violated they know that we are available and we are here to help.
Also protecting the rights of immigrants is very important when we think about the vibrancy of our communities. Everything we do at our office my question is, "Will this improve the quality of life for the citizens of the Eastern District of Michigan?" And, I think making it a place where immigrants feel welcomed to live and do business is a very important part of what we do. So, civil rights is a very important part of that too.
MC: What kind of feedback have you gotten so far since you took over as U.S. Attorney?
BM: It's a lot of positive feedback.
MC: In light of these indictments?
BM: (Laughs) In light of these indictments, mostly very positive feedback. But, you know maybe the critics don't tell me. But, I think its been positive. I've had strangers shake my hand on the street. But, those who are unhappy are probably too polite to say.
MC: What's the relationship now between your office and the Middle Eastern/Muslim community in light of the death of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah who was killed by federal agents?
BM: I think our relationship with the Middle Eastern community is positive. It's a relationship we worked hard on because I think that's another area we are having trust in government. I'm sure there are those who are not satisfied with the report from the Department of Justice that reviewed the issue and concluded that it was justified. But, that aside, we have some defendants in that case whose cases are pending so I can't talk too much about that.
But I will tell you that relations with the Middle Eastern community is something I worked very hard on because it's a very important part of our community. I'm their U.S. Attorney too. I want that community to feel welcomed. I don't want them to feel that they are under suspicion merely because of who they are. I worked very hard to explain to them that our cases are based on conduct and not on people's religion, ethnicity or national origin.
But it's understandable to feel under fire. Since 9-11 there has been a lot of backlash against Arabs and Muslim Americans, so we worked very hard to offer them the help of our civil rights unit as well as just reaching out and answering their questions and be accountable to them for our actions.
MC: What about the Aiyana Jones situation? Still being monitored by the Justice Department?
BM: Yes. The Michigan State Police is investigating and so we are sort of standing by and keeping track of what's going and to see if that's resolved satisfactorily. We'll wait for that process to conclude.
MC: What's been the response to the town hall meeting on crime you hosted recently at Rev. Edgar Vann's church?
BM: We had maybe a little over 100 people there on a very cold night when the schools were closed. In light of the weather, I was pleased with how many people came out. One of the things we are trying to do is try to attack violent crime. We created a new violent crime unit in part because we know how strapped our state and local resources are. Prosecutors have had layoffs, the police departments have downsized. So, we've been trying to help with that effort.
But we've also joined forces and we put together this group that's called the Comprehensive Violence Reduction Partnership. Its got Detroit Police, FBI, Michigan State Police, the Wayne County Prosecutor, the Wayne County Sheriff, the U.S. Attorney's Office and certainly we are doing a lot together on the enforcement side. If we all have scarce resources, if we can come together and talk about how to use those most efficiently we think that's a better way to serve the community.
We can't just arrest our way out of our violent crime problem. History shows that's just not working and we still have a lot of violent crime. We've made lots of arrests. One of the things we've been trying to do with this series of town hall meetings is to get out and talk to members of the community, tell them that we need their help, that we can't do this without them. To get that kind of help, I think we need to earn public trust.
MC: Do you feel that you are gaining that public trust?
BM: I'm hopeful that we are. The meetings we've had have been very positive and the citizens who come say that they are fed up with crime. They want to help. They want to know how they can get involved with block clubs, neighborhood watch. The people who come out to a town hall meeting are probably the people who are interested in helping. The ones who don't come are probably the audience we need to reach even more. We did one in northwest Detroit, Southwest Detroit, the east side recently that just by getting out people may talk to their neighbors and we can find ways to build some trust there. We need citizens to feel confident that when they report a crime that there will be response. We need people to feel like they can trust the police. This sort of no-snitch mentality…people fear the police and we want to show a face that they can trust and being accountable to the public. That is what we are trying to do.
MC: Given what allegedly transpired between former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and the former Justice Department police monitor Sheryl Robinson Wood, what kind of challenge does that present for both the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Detroit Police Department in terms of moving forward and addressing inherent problems within the police department?
BM: Having the problems that we had with the previous monitor who had to leave because of her own conflict of interest was certainly a big setback for us. We now have a new monitor in place and I'm confident that the new monitor and his team are doing good work and have actually made some progress. In the past year they went from (a) compliance rate of 20 percent to 60 percent. They are showing progress and that I think is something that should give us reason for optimism.
PHOTO: Michigan Chronicle senior editor Bankole Thompson and U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade