Confession: Ferguson bought me Coke - Fox 2 News Headlines

Confession: Ferguson bought me Coke

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But it came in a glass -- with ice

M.L. Elrick

Fox 2 Investigative Reporter

Since it looks like no one else in the Kilpatrick Inc. case is going to cop to anything, I reckon it's up to me make a confession: I like Bobby Ferguson.

Not the Bobby Ferguson who beat a doorman for keeping him out of a bar when he was underage.  Not the Bobby Ferguson who fired a weapon into a street fight yelling "Kill them! Kill them!"  Not the Bobby Ferguson who pistol-whipped an employee he accused of calling Ferguson's wife late one evening.  And, if witnesses are telling the truth, not the Bobby Ferguson who forced his way into city deals and bullied contractors and others to get his way and his pay.

While I have no doubt Ferguson -- whom I'll refer to from here on as "Bobby" (because we're cool like that) -- drove hard bargains and had a short fuse, he has always minded his manners around me.

You're probably thinking: "Of course; he didn't want you to report anything bad about him."  There may be some truth to that, but I never treat people poorly just because they were rude to me. (And, believe me, folks get salty with reporters all the time -- even when being sweet is the better play!)  And I wrote plenty of stories that Bobby didn't like.

Even if he was trying to curry favor -- and, so far, we haven't any testimony about Bobby sweet talking anyone besides Kwame Kilpatrick and his chief of staff Christine Beatty -- after a while, I think Bobby would have figured that there was no percentage in grinning and bearing it.

There was no more vivid example of this than the time I called Bobby in March 2008 to see if we could talk about text messages Jim Schaefer and I had obtained that, combined with city records Jennifer Dixon and I had uncovered, indicated that Beatty and Kilpatrick were helping hook Bobby up with millions in city deals.  He reluctantly agreed to meet with me, citing our relationship and his feeling I was fair.

When I told Schaefer, he said he wanted to go.  We typically conducted important interviews together, but Schaefer's real concern stemmed from the stories we had reported exposing Bobby's violent side.  And, fresh in his mind, was one of our last visits to Kennedy Taylor's home.

Taylor was the Ferguson Enterprises employee who Bobby pistol-whipped in his office after accusing him of calling his wife around 10 or 11 one evening.  The first time we stopped by Taylor's house, no one was home. So we knocked on the front and side doors as well as peered through the big picture window out front.  The next time we visited, no one was home -- but we found a bullet hole in the big picture window.

So I called Bobby back and told him Schaefer wanted to come, too.  Bobby nixed it. He said it was him and me or the meeting was off.  Over Schaefer's objections, we set about picking a meeting place for late Friday night.  

Bobby suggested his office on Wyoming.  While I didn't then, and don't now, believe Bobby had anything nefarious in mind, I was cognizant of what happened to Taylor during his meeting in Bobby's office. And, of course, there was all that earth moving equipment in the yard behind Bobby's office...  

So I suggested the recently-opened steakhouse at the MGM Grand casino.  Besides a good meal on the company's dime, I figured there was no piece of property in Detroit with more cameras and more cops on hand.  Bobby countered with Fishbone's in Greektown -- a very busy public place.

The meeting set, there were still some concerns back at the office.  After a little game-planning, it was agreed that if I couldn't bring a colleague, I shouldn't quite go alone.  Eric Lawrence, a new hire who worked evenings and came with the added bonus of casting an imposing figure (despite his gentle nature), was drafted to drop me off outside Fishbone's.

I found Bobby at the bar with his attorney. We exchanged pleasantries, I ordered a Coke, and told Bobby about our findings.  He said we were wrong.  I showed him the text messages we uncovered.  Bobby said he got the contracts on merit.

"I work hard for everything I do," he told me. "Nobody's never given me anything."

I made it clear this would be a big story in Sunday's Free Press, but Bobby was still cordial. We shook hands and parted on good terms.  Despite my protestations, he even paid for my Coke.

I walked out and called Eric for a ride back to the office. No one followed me out of the bar, confirming my feeling that my colleagues' fear that Bobby or some goons would Shanghai me were unfounded.

The next day, Ferguson released a statement calling the Free Press' findings a "fishing expedition grounded purely on circumstantial anecdotes and unrelated half-truths that attempt to connect purely unrelated issues for purposes that do not involve the truth or the facts."  (After seeing so many of Bobby's text messages, I'm guessing his lawyer wrote the high falutin' refutation.)

The story ran March 9, 2008 under the headline "MAYOR'S PAL GOT INSIDE SCOOP."  It began: "A close friend of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick won millions of dollars in city contracts while secretly consulting with the mayor's top aide, according to records and text messages obtained by the Free Press."

Afterward, Bobby sent me an e-mail saying he thought I had been fair.

I've known Bobby for more than a decade now, but I wouldn't say I know him well. I think it's fair to say we like each other, but we're more office friends, given that we've really only bumped into each other in city hall, on city job sites, at political events and, now, in courthouses.

I don't write this to endorse Bobby's character and conduct. When it comes to love and money, I never presume to know anything about anybody. And I've learned over the years that whatever anyone tells me about either subject is typically only distantly related to the truth.  (Take me, for example. I'm broke and celibate. Feel free to guess which one is true.)

So is Bobby Ferguson innocent? Is he misunderstood? Is he being persecuted?  The jury will decide that.

All I can say is that when I see him, no matter what I've reported, he shakes my hand or nods. And he smiles.  Which is good. I've heard enough to suspect that, when Bobby stops smiling, it may be clobberin' time...

Follow M.L. Elrick's coverage of the Kilpatrick & Co. trial daily on FOX 2 and at www.myfoxdetroit.com.  Contact him at ml.elrick@foxtv.com or via Twitter (@elrick) or Facebook. And catch him every Friday morning around 7:15 a.m. on Drew & Mike on WRIF, 101.1 FM.  He is co-author of "The Kwame Sutra: Musings on Lust, Life and Leadership from Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick," available at www.kwamesutra.com. A portion of sales benefit the Eagle Sports Club and Soar Tutoring.  Learn more at www.eaglesports.com.

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