Elrick: Five guys and one felon

Elrick: Five guys and one felon

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Chance meeting and missed opportunity leaves a bad taste

By M.L. Elrick
Fox 2 Investigative Reporter

(DETROIT - WJBK)  People say all the time that Detroit is the biggest small town in the world, but five months of testimony can leave you feeling like it's also one of the most incestuous.

I've seen friends testify, I've had a neighbor on the witness list, and I've watched a raft of sources reluctantly raise their right hand and swear to tell the truth.

(To my relief, most of them said to the court while under oath what they'd said to me under their breath.)

But one of the funniest things that's happened since this crazy mess got underway occurred Thursday, while I was wrapping up my investigation into the letter Carlita Kilpatrick sent to folks in her spurned former city asking them to help foot the bill so her kids could go to a pricey private school.

Double- and triple-checking our findings before putting the story on the air meant that, for only the third time since the trial started, I couldn't be in court.

This was unfortunate, because James Rosendall Jr. was expected to testify Thursday.

"J.R.," as he was known to Kwame Kilpatrick's crew, bribed city officials to approve a billion-dollar sludge hauling deal. What Kilpatrick, his associates, and then-City Council President Pro Tem Monica Conyers didn't know (until it was too late) is that the FBI had learned of Rosendall's misdeeds, flipped him, and got him to wear a wire. He also set up meetings in restaurants and in his car, which the feds had rigged with microphones and cameras.

In short, Rosendall was about to become the belle of the ball, the star witness in the final and, potentially, most damning chapter in the book the government is throwing at the former mayor, his father Bernard and mayoral best bud Bobby Ferguson.

Because TV is a visual medium, moving pictures really matter. And we sometimes have a helluva time even getting video of witnesses coming and going from the courthouse. In fact, we didn't see the government's other star witness, Derrick Miller, come or go once in the five days he was on the stand. (We suspect the feds drove him to and from court, getting him into the building through the court's underground garage.)

So I called and e-mailed Fox2's men on the scene -- eagle-eyed photographer Marcus Myers and super producer and blogger extraordinaire Ken Martinek -- and told them to be on the lookout for the mulletted corrupter from West Michigan.

But, like Miller, Rosendall came and went with a whisper.

Meanwhile, back at the station, it was getting close to 2 p.m. I figured I should run out to grab a bite because, as soon as we finished our work on the investigation, we would be consumed preparing our report on Rosendall's testimony.

With some trepidation that I couldn't spare the time, I dashed out to Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Greenfield for a burger to go.

After ordering, as I turned to grab a seat, I found myself staring right at a man who was either James "J.R." Rosendall or his doppelganger!

I quickly called Ken to ask what Rosendall wore to court and Marcus to see if he had seen Rosendall or was nearby so we could try to grab an interview after Rosendall finished his lunch. (Contrary to what you may have heard, we do have SOME manners!)

Then I called the station, which is about 5 minutes away.

But before we could gather our forces, Rosendall was up and out of the restaurant.

We haven't missed much during this trial -- and we've broken more important stories than any other news organization covering it -- but we weren't quite nimble enough to snag J.R.

I doubt he would have talked, but I'll still remember him as the one that got away.

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 most weekdays and 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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