Bobby Ferguson. (David Coates / Detroit News)
Detroit — Federal prosecutors get a second shot at convicting contractor Bobby Ferguson of bid-rigging charges Tuesday when jury selection begins in a closely watched criminal case involving a close friend of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
Much has changed since the $12 million bid-rigging case ended in a mistrial in summer 2012. In March, Ferguson was convicted along with Kilpatrick on rackeetering charges and sentenced to 21 years in prison.
Prosecutors decided to retry a slimmed-down version of the bid-rigging case, which offers a chance at stacking a longer prison sentence on top of the 21 years, provides insurance if the racketeering conviction is overturned on appeal but also raises questions about whether the government is piling on and wasting taxpayer resources, experts said.
“They’re not going to give Ferguson a pass,” said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University and a former federal prosecutor.
Ferguson’s lawyer could not be reached for comment Monday.
Last month, prosecutors dropped several charges against Ferguson, streamlining and simplifying a $12 million bid-rigging case in light of the corruption sentence.
Prosecutors dropped three conspiracy charges, including mail fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice. Ferguson still faces five charges, including two conspiracy counts and three felony firearm charges.
The move will eliminate the need for 25 witnesses to testify during the Jan. 21 bid-rigging trial and the need to present more than 500 pages of financial and tax records, prosecutors said.
“When you’ve got a defendant who has received as substantial a sentence as Bobby Ferguson did, it seems that either the government doesn’t have confidence in the previous conviction or is just engaging in piling on,” veteran defense lawyer William Swor said Monday.
Like the corruption trial, the bid-rigging case alleges Ferguson capitalized on his friendship with Kilpatrick to fix bids and receive millions in public contracts.
“To the extent the two cases are inter-related, there’s an argument that (a conviction) would be concurrent, so why is the government wasting all of these additional taxpayer dollars?” Swor asked.
Prosecutors said they decided to retry Ferguson for several reasons. Among them: The allegations involve different victims than the corruption case.
“This case alleges fraud and illegal dumping at a federally funded housing project that was being built to provide safe and decent housing for one of the poorest communities in Detroit,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said. “Second, because another defendant is also on trial, proceeding to trial against Mr. Ferguson does not expend any additional government or court resources.”
And the prison sentence for Ferguson, who rejected an unspecified plea deal, is not guaranteed until it is affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals, she added.
Ferguson, 45, is set to stand trial alongside colleague Michael Woodhouse, who is facing two remaining conspiracy charges. If convicted, the men could be sentenced to 10 years or more in prison.
They were indicted originally in September 2010. Ferguson was accused of falsifying bids, laundering money and dumping debris on the grounds of the old Herman Gardens public housing site on the city’s west side.
Five people have pleaded guilty in a case that went to trial in 2012 before Kilpatrick and Ferguson were tried on corruption charges.
The case against Ferguson ended in a mistrial in the summer of 2012. Jurors said they agreed to convict Ferguson on four charges before leaving court for the weekend. When they returned four days later, the jury was deadlocked 10-1 to convict, jurors told The News, prompting U.S. District Judge David Lawson to declare a mistrial.
Ferguson has been held at a federal prison in Milan and the Wayne County Jail while awaiting trial on the bid-rigging charges.