January 27, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Kilpatrick, dad linked to FBI bribery investigation

Ex-Synagro exec pleads guilty; details trips, cash

As "City Official A," former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick first met with James Rosendall of Synagro in 2001 and later directed Rosendall to work through his father to win a city contract. Bernard Kilpatrick, left, had a consulting firm to help contractors get city work. As the "Relative of City Official A," he allegedly demanded substantial payments. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

DETROIT -- Court documents filed in connection with a guilty plea Monday tie former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his father, business consultant Bernard N. Kilpatrick, to an ongoing federal bribery investigation.

James R. Rosendall, 44, former Michigan vice president of Texas waste firm Synagro Technologies Inc., pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy before U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn.

Rosendall told Cohn that one of his tasks was to win a multimillion-dollar sludge hauling and treatment contract from the city of Detroit.

"I discovered officials expected me to give things to get their support," he told the judge. "I began giving in to those demands."

Rosendall's guilty plea is the latest development in a long-running and wide-ranging City Hall corruption investigation that already has brought convictions against two former Cobo Center directors and a criminal charge against a Cobo contractor. More charges are expected.

The court documents only identify the officials Rosendall dealt with by letters of the alphabet, not by name. But it is clear from other public records that "City Official A" is former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and "Relative A of City Official A" is the former mayor's father, Bernard.

Rosendall said he gave trips, more than $200,000 in campaign and charitable contributions to Official A, and cash payments, sometimes in the form of loans, to the relative.

The charge carries a maximum five-year penalty but under a plea agreement, Rosendall could get 11 months or less if he continues to cooperate with federal officials. No sentencing date was set.

According to a five-page charging document unsealed Monday, Rosendall conspired to bribe an unnamed member of the City Council and showered favors, including cash, trips and champagne, on a city official, a relative of the official and aides.

Rosendall admitted he chartered private planes to fly city officials to Las Vegas and Mackinac Island and paid cash and other favors before and after the city council approved the sludge hauling and treatment contract that pays Synagro about $47 million a year.

City credit card records show former Mayor Kilpatrick was in Las Vegas at the time of a private charter flight there that Rosendall allegedly arranged for "City Official A." Kilpatrick did not charge the city for airfare for the September 2003 trip, when he stayed at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, the credit card records show. Other city records show Kilpatrick authorized a resolution approving the Synagro contract, an action attributed to "City Official A" in the charging documents.

Lawyer urges caution

Acting U.S. Attorney Terrence Berg said in a news release it is irresponsible to speculate on possible crimes by city officials and others identified only by letters of the alphabet in the court documents. It is possible for Rosendall to be guilty of conspiring to bribe a city official who is not guilty of accepting a bribe, Berg noted.

James C. Thomas, a lawyer for Kilpatrick, applauded the statement sent out by Berg and said he agreed the media should avoid speculation about those who had contact with Rosendall. The charges against Rosendall are about what he did, not what others did, Thomas said. Kilpatrick is completing a jail sentence for obstructing justice in connection with a police whistle-blower trial at which he gave false testimony.

Kilpatrick's father headed the Maestro & Associates consulting firm to help contractors get city work while Kwame Kilpatrick was mayor. The Detroit News reported in July that the FBI was investigating payments contractors made to Maestro & Associates and had tapped Bernard Kilpatrick's telephones.

"When I see the documents, I'll comment on them," said Bernard Kilpatrick, when asked if he was the relative of City Official A. But he was unavailable for comment after a reporter e-mailed him the charging documents against Rosendall. Bernard Kilpatrick's lawyer, Abraham Singer, declined comment.

A federal grand jury has been probing possible bribes paid in connection with the sludge contract the Detroit City Council awarded Synagro, by a 5-4 vote, in November 2007.

Rosendall began cooperating with the FBI investigation in about January 2008 and helped videotape meetings, persons familiar with the investigation said.

"City Council Member A" had misgivings about the Synagro contract but ultimately voted in favor of it, according to Rosendall's plea agreement. On Nov. 20, 2007, the day the council member voted in favor of the contract, Rosendall told an intermediary that Synagro would wire $25,000 for the council member.

Federal agents have electronic surveillance evidence that allegedly links Detroit City Council President Monica Conyers to a payment or payments made in connection with the Synagro contract, persons familiar with the investigation said. Conyers has denied wrongdoing and her Detroit attorney, Steve Fishman, has said such allegations should be viewed with skepticism.

'Bundled campaign checks'

Allegations date to 2001, when Rosendall allegedly gave City Official A "several bundled campaign checks" in Lansing and said he was interested in taking over a wastewater contract with the city. In 2001, Kwame Kilpatrick was a state representative in Lansing preparing to run for mayor.

About 2004, at the direction of City Official A, Rosendall began working with a relative of the city official to obtain the contract, the charging document alleges.

The relative introduced Rosendall to an intermediary who was to serve as the primary contact.

Rosendall admitted paying about $25,000 to the relative between 2004 and 2008.

He attended fundraisers for the city official and donated about $200,000 to nonprofits and campaign funds connected to the official, the document alleges.

He chartered a private jet to take the city official and another city official to Las Vegas on Sept. 12, 2003, for a boxing match and in April 2004 chartered another private jet to take a different city official and an aide to Las Vegas for an ultimate fighting championship, the charging document alleges.

Records for the city credit card issued to Kwame Kilpatrick show he was in Las Vegas the weekend of Sept. 14, 2003, and charged $1,687 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

In fall 2007, the relative demanded payments in connection with the approval of the Synagro contract and received several hundred dollars in cash and a case of Cristal champagne for the city official, on Dec. 20, 2007, the charging document alleges. A six-bottle case of Cristal champagne costs about $1,800.

Rosendall secretly tape-recorded a meeting with the relative on Jan. 29, 2008, at which time the relative "confirmed that he had threatened to 'kill' the Synagro contract, including delaying the city's issuance of Synagro's permits," if Rosendall did not pay him, according to the plea agreement.

When Rosendall told the relative he had done no work to get the Synagro contract approved, the relative said, "I got you to the table," the plea agreement says.

Rosendall offered the relative $2,500, which the relative refused, the plea agreement says.

In March, the relative told Rosendall he refused the money in January because Rosendall tried to hand it to him in a restaurant and "I don't ever want anybody to see me taking money from somebody." The relative held up five fingers to indicate he wanted $5,000 and received $2,500 from Rosendall later that day, the plea agreement says.

Earlier, the relative of City Official A told Rosendall he wanted Rosendall to use the name of the relative's former girlfriend in place of the relative's name on any city contract documents.

Synagro suspended Rosendall without pay when news of the investigation broke. It also suspended its contract with Rayford W. Jackson, a Detroit businessman who was Synagro's local partner in the sludge deal and who is also under federal investigation.

Richard H. Morgan, Jackson's attorney, said he had not yet seen the charging documents and could not comment. Synagro officials have said they are cooperating with the investigation and the company is not a target.

Detroit News staff writers Mike Wilkinson and Jennifer Mrozowski contributed to this report. You can reach Paul Egan at (313) 222-2069 or pegan@detnews.com">pegan@detnews.com.

James Rosendall, in the front seat, pleaded guilty Monday to bribery ... (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Former Synagro Technologies Inc. vice president James Rosendall worked ...