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In August 2004, a major sewer line broke in Sterling Heights, causing a massive sinkhole that angered residents and business owners alike.

"It shut down 15 Mile Road," Sterling Heights Mayor Richard Notte recalled.

What few knew then, though, was that in fixing the breach, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department would make sure that Bobby Ferguson, a longtime friend of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, got $350,000 out of the project — even though his company did no work, according to a federal corruption indictment issued Wednesday.

Details surrounding the sewer collapse reveal a sobering portrait of a mayor allegedly willing to put overt pressure on contractors to make sure Ferguson got a payday, conspiring to withhold a separate contract until his friend got the money.

"(Ferguson) always wanted his piece," U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said Wednesday.

It wasn't, prosecutors say, all for Ferguson: They allege that Ferguson kicked back at least $424,000 in cash, items of value or other benefits to Kilpatrick. Prosecutors also allege that as mayor, Kilpatrick used nearly $600,000 in cash proceeds from the conspiracy to buy clothing, repay loans, purchase cashier's checks and pay his credit card bills.

The Sterling Heights project, involving a massive, 11-foot diameter sewer line that serviced much of Macomb County, was one of nine involving the Water and Sewerage Department in which prosecutors say Kilpatrick or Ferguson conspired to steer work to Ferguson's firms, typically pressuring other contractors to add them to their projects.

According to the indictment, Ferguson's companies secured at least $60.3 million from those contracts.

The allegation also portrays Kilpatrick as intimately involved in the scheme, plotting with Ferguson on how they can ensure his participation.

According the indictment, Kilpatrick, Ferguson and Kilpatrick aide Derrick Miller pressured a contractor on the repair site to add Ferguson, threatening to block a separate $12 million project for that company until it agreed to pay Ferguson.

After the sewer break, the question for Kilpatrick and Ferguson was simple: How does Ferguson get in on the deal? After Ferguson told Kilpatrick that a certain subcontractor was assigned to hire all other subcontractors, Kilpatrick, apparently in a text message, wrote: "Perfect! That's what I needed."Afterward, Ferguson sent Kilpatrick a message: "We need to (meet) on how, I move in, I got a great idea sir." (Text messages introduced during Kilpatrick's perjury case show that he and Ferguson often traded messages, and sometimes talked about contracts.)In September 2004, Ferguson apparently settled on a deal: One subcontractor would split its proceeds 50-50 with him. But he wanted to make sure that the water department knew he was getting a cut. To do so, he told Kilpatrick to "let Victor know" that the mayor himself would check invoices. At the time, Victor Mercado was head of the department.

About the same time, the general contractor, identified as "Contractor I," was up for a $12 million sewer-lining contract amendment. Ferguson, according to the indictment, then told company representatives that people "downtown" would not understand if he didn't get enough money from the project. They believed he was referring to the mayor's office.

Later in the fall 2005, Mercado got involved, asking the company if they'd settled with Ferguson. The issue apparently sat for a few months because in December, according to the indictment, Ferguson told the company that Kilpatrick would sit on the $12-million amendment until he got paid. Miller then told the company to help Ferguson.

Shortly afterward, Ferguson, Miller and a company representative were at the same Detroit restaurant in the middle of the month. After conferring with Miller, Ferguson approached the representative of Company I and demanded $350,000, far less than he had asked for earlier.

The ploy apparently worked: In late December the company, along with its partner, agreed to pay Ferguson, according to the indictment.

And two days before Christmas that year, Kilpatrick and Mercado authorized the $12 million contract for Company I.