Kwame Kilpatrick name so toxic, lawyer wants to ban it from corruption trial

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A lawyer accused of teaming with trash titan Chuck Rizzo to bribe a Macomb County politician is trying to prevent jurors in his upcoming corruption trial from hearing the names of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and other disgraced politicians.

Mentioning the names of Kilpatrick and Detroit City councilmembers Monica Conyers and Alonzo Bates risks unfairly prejudicing lawyer Jay Schwartz, his attorney argued in a court filing. He wants to prevent FBI Special Agent Robert Beeckman from mentioning the corrupt Detroit politicians during Schwartz's trial next month.

Jay Schwartz

Schwartz, 55, of Northville is accused of bribing convicted Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds with cash and free legal services and helping conceal the bribes. The bribery conspiracy ran from 2014 to 2016 when Rizzo was trying to secure and maintain an $18 million trash-hauling contract in Clinton Township, according to the government.

The request comes from a fringe figure in a broader crackdown on public corruption in Macomb County that has led to the convictions of more than 20 contractors and public officials, and reflects the toxic legacy of Kilpatrick. He was sentenced in 2013 to 28 years in federal prison — tied for the longest federal public corruption sentence in U.S. history — for turning Detroit City Hall into a criminal enterprise. Former President Donald Trump commuted the sentence in January.

Beeckman noted his success sending Kilpatrick, Conyers and Bates to prison while testifying in front of a federal grand jury that indicted Schwartz on bribery and bribery conspiracy charges in July 2019. If convicted, Schwartz faces up to 10 years in federal prison.

"Not only do such references by Agent Beeckman threaten to mislead and confuse the jury, they conjure up the jury’s likely awareness of news in Detroit over the past ten years to suggest that, like the disgraced Kilpatrick, Conyers, and Bates, Mr. Schwartz is also worthy of conviction," his lawyer, Gerald Gleeson, wrote.

There is a precedent for barring Kilpatrick's name during federal corruption cases in Detroit.

In May 2012, U.S. District Judge David Lawson blocked prosecutors from mentioning Kilpatrick during the $12 million bid-rigging trial of contractor Bobby Ferguson.

Lawson said he was concerned the mere mention of Kilpatrick's name would be prejudicial against Ferguson, the former mayor's close friend. Instead, Kilpatrick was identified as a "city official" in front of the jury.

The Ferguson case ended in a mistrial but he was convicted alongside Kilpatrick in the City Hall racketeering trial the next year and sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Ferguson was granted compassionate release in April.

Left to right, Bernard Kilpatrick, Bobby Ferguson and Kwame Kilpatrick leave the Federal courthouse in Detroit, MI August 8, 2012. (Charles V. Tines/The Detroit News)

Schwartz, meanwhile, served as Rizzo's business lawyer as the trash mogul built a sprawling empire across Metro Detroit.

The lawyer was captured on an FBI wiretap targeting Rizzo and several area politicians, including former Macomb County Public Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco, who also is awaiting trial in an extortion case.

The wiretap recorded Reynolds and friend Angelo Selva talking in July 2015. The duo discussed Rizzo and Schwartz providing free legal services in exchange for help with a Clinton Township garbage contract, according to the indictment.

Spit, shakedowns marked Rizzo’s epic rise and fall

One month later, FBI agents were listening to a wiretap of Rizzo's phone.

During one call, Schwartz told the trash mogul that Rizzo needed to provide $5,000 to pay for expenses related to Reynolds' divorce, according to the indictment. Schwartz suggested the payment be disguised as a third-party loan, prosecutors allege.

In September 2015, Schwartz sent a blank promissory note to Reynolds that was used to conceal bribe payments from Rizzo, according to the government.

Two months later, Reynolds allegedly received a $3,000 cash bribe from Rizzo, who was sentenced to 66 months in prison.

Reynolds, meanwhile, is serving a 17-year prison sentence. 

His trial testimony focused on Schwartz and his Farmington Hills law firm. Schwartz and associate Carmen Moyer represented Reynolds during his divorce and provided as much as $56,000 worth of free legal help, Beeckman testified.

The request from Schwartz follows a string of failed attempts to blunt the government's case.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland refused to suppress the Rizzo wiretap. Schwartz had argued investigators violated court orders while conducting wiretaps.

Twitter: @robertsnellnews