Eugene Mullins testifies that he never took a bribe
BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter September 13, 2013 6:50PM
09/13/2013 Chicago Eugene Mullins, a former Todd Stroger spokesman, leaves the Dirksen Federal Building with his lawyers in downtown Chicago on Friday, September 13, 2013. | Michael Jarecki/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 15, 2013 7:29AM
He was supposed to be the star of the trial.
But former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger ended up being the ghost missing from the center of his best pal Eugene Mullins’ defense.
A day after Mullins’ attorneys went back on their vow to call Stroger to the stand, testimony in the trial came to a close Friday after Mullins’ attempts to paint himself as the innocent victim of an overzealous FBI probe of Stroger were repeatedly shut down by U.S. Judge Amy St. Eve.
Mullins’ legal team has long based his defense around that argument. The judge’s rulings seemed to leave Mullins — Stroger’s lifelong friend and former spokesman — with an uphill battle to convince jurors that he didn’t take kickbacks worth nearly $35,000 for steering bogus county contracts to four pals back in 2010.
Time and time again during Friday’s testimony, Mullins’ lawyers John Richardson and Brunnell Donald-Kyei were cut off mid-sentence by St. Eve for attempting to ask questions that suggested the FBI was more interested in Stroger than Mullins and had used excessively aggressive tactics to turn witnesses against Stroger.
On one occasion, Richardson was sharply criticized by the judge for “textbook hearsay” when he tried to suggest FBI agent Tim Keese had asked Mullins, “How much money did you give to Todd Stroger?”
On another, Donald-Kyei was interrupted by St. Eve after prosecutors objected to Donald-Kyei’s suggestion that an overbearing Keese threatened Mullins, “You knew I was coming.”
And when Mullins took the stand in his own defense Friday, he too was silenced by the judge when he described his arrest inside a police station by the FBI in dramatic terms.
“I saw four suits coming towards me,” Mullins testified, adding that he’d been giving an anti-bullying talk to school kids at a police station when he was collared. “One of the suits walked up on me and tried to grab me,” Mullins said. “He didn’t announce himself... maybe he thought I had a gun?”
St. Eve called that sarcastic aside “irrelevant” and ordered jurors to ignore it.
But an unruffled Mullins — perhaps relying on his long experience as former Chicago cop — testified confidently that he never took kickbacks or had any control over who got county contracts, how much the contracts were worth or when they were paid.
“I really didn’t care!” he said, laughing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsay Jenkins, though, forced Mullins to read from draft documents that Mullins had emailed to himself, then from word-for-word identical passages that his pals later submitted in their bids for county contracts.
The close similarities may undermine Mullins’ claim that he hadn’t coached his pals how to get their hands on taxpayer cash, though Mullins said the drafts were simply “templates” the county often gave to potential vendors.
Mullins also conceded under cross-examination that he had unpaid tax debts from 2009, and that he filed for bankruptcy in 2011, though he denied he was having financial problems in 2010, when the alleged scam took place, saying his money problems dated to Stroger being voted out of office.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday morning.