Witnesses at the long-delayed trial of former city official Kenardo Curry said Tuesday he and special projects director Mark Kleiner talked proposals with a North Chattanooga developer after getting the city to pay for a study of the feasibility of the development.
That was the crux of the state's case on charges that date all the way back to 2005.
Curry is charged with 17 counts of theft, official misconduct and fraudulent use of a credit card.
But there was no testimony about numerous prior Curry allegations before the state closed its proof late Tuesday afternoon.
Instead, both the prosecutor and defense attorney hammered at City Auditor Stan Sewell's handling of the investigation.
Prosecutor Bret Alexander played a tape in which Auditor Sewell played a leading role in the questioning of Kleiner along with city detective Larry Lockmiller. He said he appeared to "sound offensive" on the tape and noted, "You're the city auditor. Your job is to be objective."
The auditor and detective pressed Kleiner on what he knew about any improprieties by Curry and said he could help his own case by cooperating. At one point detective Lockmiller said Kleiner might face as much as eight years in prison if he went before a jury. Kleiner wound up getting diversion and had the charges expunged.
When Kleiner left, the auditor stated on the tape, "He ain't interested in rolling over and providing information."
It was noted that both the auditor and detective had microphones running and that the Sewell tape recorder kept going even after Kleiner had left. Auditor Sewell said, "At the end I did not know it was on, and there was a little bit of foul language there." He told detective Lockmiller he could "get the hell on your vacation now."
Defense attorney Dan Ripper, asking about a discussion of what charges Kleiner might face, inquired, "Can you see that as being offensive and heavy-handed on Mr. Kleiner?"
The auditor said he was new to the job. He said, "I hope I do it better now. At that time I wasn't very good at it."
Attorney Ripper noted that the auditor noted soon after Kleiner had left that he was going to tip then-Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Herman Wang off to the story. He said he would tell the reporter "to check the warrants and go ahead and give him a little statement. Then I'll say I won't have any further comment."
Auditor Sewell said the reporter "was bombarding me" for information on the case and he promised him a scoop.
Kleiner, who worked as special projects director in city neighborhood services, said he and Curry talked about working "on the side" as developers of a valuable property on Dallas Road - the old Longholme mansion that Lewis Card and Jimmy Hudson had bought at an auction. That was the same property that Eric Myers of Polis Studio had been hired by Neighborhood Services to do a study on the feasibility of the development.
Architect Myers said he was paid invoices by the city of $770 and $290 and $275 and $665 for deciding whether the project was feasible. He said he had performed similar services for other governments as part of neighborhood development.
Kleiner, who is now in the business banking department at SunTrust Bank, said he and Curry met at a restaurant with Mr. Card, saying he was acquainted with his son. He said he had a second meeting with Mr. Card, and there were proposals sent by email.
But he said, "We didn't have any money and the idea fizzled."
Mr. Card recalled meeting the pair at the former Brick Oven Grille. He said he and Mr. Hudson first tried to find someone to save the mansion, then turned to a search for developers. He said the two officials of Neighborhood Services had ideas that "were very knowledgeable and very intriguing."
But he said he finally decided it was a much bigger project than they could handle. The property was sold to developers who built a subdivision of upscale homes.
Mr. Card said he knew that Curry and Kleiner were working for themselves and not the city. He said, "I'd rather not be involved with the government in anything if I can help it."
He added, "At the time I felt it was larger than anything they had ever tackled. I just didn't feel like they had the experience for a tract this large."
Attorney Ripper noted that Curry, who had been hired by the Jon Kinsey administration, was fired as soon as Ron Littlefield became mayor. He said the Littlefield administration then tried to uncover anything they could on Curry.
Judge Rebecca Stern is presiding over the case.