A businessman testified Wednesday that then-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was a frequent flier aboard his private planes, taking 20 round-trip flights worth nearly $400,000 but never paying a dime in return.
Tony Soave said he was uncomfortable with the arrangement but didn't want to cross the mayor and jeopardize any work with the city. 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 spree. He said Kilpatrick gave the watch to his father, Bernard Kilpatrick, as a Christmas present.
Soave said he first 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. Defense attorneys will cross-examine Soave on Thursday.
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.