Urban

Kwame Kilpatrick Sentenced to 28 Years in Prison

The former mayor of Detroit was sentenced today after being convicted for public corruption.
by | October 10, 2013

By Tresa Baldas, Jim Schaefer, Gina Damron and Tammy Stables Battaglia

Seven months after his historic conviction for public corruption, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds today to serve 28 years in federal prison.

"The government has asked for a sentence of 28 years," Edmunds said. "I believe that is in fact what his sentence should be."

Kilpatrick ran what the government called a money-making racket out of city hall that steered millions to himself, his family and his friends while the impoverished city hobbled along.

Edmunds said she will recommend Kilpatrick be sent to a prison in Texas, where his family lives. She told Kilpatrick he could appeal.

As she issued his sentence, Kilpatrick stared at her, blinking slowly. Edmunds said restitution will be determined later and a hearing would be held within 90 days.

Before issuing the sentence, Edmunds said it was important to her that Kilpatrick was not just convicted on extortion, but on other counts of fraud. She said text messages and witnesses bolstered allegations that his relationship with friend and co-defendant Bobby Ferguson was at the heart of the criminal activity.

She said the seriousness of Kilpatrick's crimes are compounded by the involvement of city officials and others. Thirty four other people have been convicted in connection with the public corruption case.

"One thing is certain," Edmunds said. "It was the citizens of Detroit who suffered."

After the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said the judge sent a powerful message to the people of Detroit "that this type of betrayal will not be tolerated."

The government had asked for a minimum 28-year prison sentence, while the defense said Kilpatrick should be sentenced to no more than 15 years.

"Twenty eight years -- a very, very powerful sentence, equal to the highest sentence ever handed out in a public corruption case, but appropriate for the type of staggering corruption we saw in this case," McQuade said.

The overarching issue in the case, she said, is that public officials are responsible to the citizenry.

Edmunds said he made sure Ferguson, who was convicted on charges of running a racket out of the mayor's office, was included in lucrative city contracts.

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The judge said Kilpatrick took bribes, misused nonprofit funds and "used his power as mayor ... to steer an astounding amount of business to Ferguson."

Edmunds listed witnesses who testified, including people from his own administration. The testimony, she said, showed "a pattern of threats and pressure" from Kilpatrick and Ferguson. Kilpatrick, the judge said, lived the high life, hosted lavish parties, accepted cash tributes and loaded the city payroll with friends and family.

Despite his speech in court today -- in which Kilpatrick asked for a fair sentence and said he accepted responsibility -- Edmunds said the former mayor has largely shown little remorse.

Kilpatrick's defense team wanted Edmunds to consider his accomplishments as mayor -- responsibilities Edmunds said he was elected to carry out.

"He chose to waste his talents on personal aggrandizement and enrichment," she said.

Before being sentenced, Kilpatrick, addressed U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds in a soft voice, his eyes directed down at the podium much of the time. He said he respects the justice system and the jury's verdict, though he disagreed with it.

He said he accepts responsibility and asked for a fair sentence.

Kilpatrick said he lied about having an affair with his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty. People, he said, lost faith in his leadership.

He said he believes "that I really, really, really messed up."

Kilpatrick, whose wife and children are not in court, said he was sorry to those he let down, including his wife, children and parents.

"I want the city to heal," he said. "I want the city to prosper. I want the city to be great in the end. I want the city to have the same feeling it did in 2006. when the Super Bowl was here. ... Everybody felt like this was their town."

Margaret Raben, one of Kilpatrick's attorneys, had objected earlier today to the calculation of the sentencing guidelines related to the $9.6 million the government estimates the conspiracy cost the city. She argued the sources for that figure are unsubstantiated.

Raben argued Kilpatrick's guidelines exceed what someone else might get for a violent crime. She said the calculations lead to "absurd results. ... The guidelines pile on. And in this case, they pile on, pile on and pile on."

After going through each of the contracts that were illegal, Edmunds said she would calculate the sentencing guidelines based on a figure of $4.6-million.

Edmunds had discretion to go above or below what either side has requested and the discretion to go above or below the sentencing guidelines, which in this case, set the maximum sentence at life in prison.

McQuade said she hopes the sentence sends a message to others about the future of Detroit.

"This case is not so much about punishing people from the past, but about shaping our future," she said. "With a message like this it is very clear that public officials will be held accountable in the city of Detroit. And we hope it would deter people from abusing their public office, and encourage good and honest people to seek public office."

She said she felt Kilpatrick contradicted himself in his statement before sentencing. "I heard him apologize to the citizens of Detroit, but I also heard him deny stealing from the people of Detroit and deny stealing from the citizens of Detroit, which is in direct contradiction of what the jury found in this case," McQuade said.

Before the sentencing, Harold Gurewitz, Kilpatrick's attorney, said the sentence advocated by the government -- 28 years in prison at a minimum -- "goes beyond what's necessary."

He said he was hard to describe the amount of publicity in the case, adding that it has been a distraction and has made Kilpatrick a scapegoat for the city's sins for the past 50 years.

Gurewitz said Kilpatrick improved the quality of life for people in Detroit and wanted to see the city become more vibrant and viable.

Gurewitz said his client's accomplishments have been over looked, including development of the Riverfront walkway, economic development projects and refurbishment of sewer lines that led to sporting events like the Super Bowl and All-Star Game.

"There was no questions that all these things were accomplished," Gurewitz said. "But they are now overshadowed by the events that we are here for today."

Kilpatrick has already been locked up three times. Gurewitz said he knows the impact and meaning of incarceration.

"It is the clang and the echo of the door on that cell for the first time, and the feeling of loneliness," that has an indelible effect on a person, Gurewitz said.

He highlighted other cases, where public officials got lesser sentences, including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced to serve 14 years in prison on corruption convictions in 2011.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow said "this is one of the significant cases of public corruption" across the country and it occurred when Detroit was vulnerable.

"Mr. Kilpatrick systematically exploited his public office," Chutkow said. "There has been no acceptance of any responsibility. ... No contrition.. No remorse."

In his statement, Kilpatrick said all he ever wanted to be was the mayor. Months into the job, he said, he hated it. He said managing a city "is the hardest thng you can imagine." He wrapped up his comments at about 12:30 p.m.

"I'm usually a good speaker, but this is not met," Kilpatrick said. I've never been here before. I don't want to be here again. ... I'm incredibly remorseful."

McQuade said she hopes the sentence sends a message to others about the future of the city.

"This case is not so much about punishing people from the past, but about shaping our future," she said. "With a message like this it is very clear that public officials will be held accountable in the city of Detroit. And we hope it would deter people from abusing their public office, and encourage good and honest people to seek public office."

She said she felt Kilpatrick contradicted himself in his statement before sentencing.

"I heard him apologize to the citizens of Detroit, but I also heard him deny stealing from the people of Detroit and deny stealing from the citizens of Detroit, which is in direct contradiction of what the jury found in this case," McQuade said.

Talking about his father, Bernard Kilpatrick -- convicted on a single charge and facing prison time -- Kilpatrick, getting choked up at times, said his father is a good man.

"He's a real good man," Kilpatrick said. "Typical Detroit north end guy. Talk a lot of stuff. But he's not a criminal."

Kilpatrick said his parents divorced when he was 10 years old. Bernard Kilpatrick, he said, told him he would be there for the rest of his life, and he was.

"I'm a great dad because of him," the former mayor said.

Kilpatrick also talked about Ferguson, who he said had a lucrative business before he became mayor. He said he was proud of his friend. He said the pair didn't become close until after 1988.

Kilpatrick said that if he could do things differently, he would not have had the conversations they were having, which he said blurred the lines of propriety.

He said he would never put a contractor or friend before the people of Detroit.

Ferguson, Kilpatrick's co-defendant and convicted partner in crime, received more than $127 million in contracts while his friend was mayor, according to the government. Of that, at least $76 million in contracts were illegally obtained through extortion, the government said. Ferguson will be sentenced on Friday.

The government is seeking a maximum 28-year prison sentence for Ferguson, calling him the key player in the pair's extortion scheme, which involved elbowing competing contractors out of deals and shaking down others to cut Ferguson in on deals.

The defense says Ferguson should get no more than 10 years, arguing the government is unfairly trying to hold Ferguson and Kilpatrick responsible for all of Detroit's financial woes, and punish them for crimes that were never proven at trial.

Ferguson's attorney, Mike Rataj, was at the federal courthouse this afternoon.

"Bobby's doing fine," he said. "Bobby Ferguson just didn't drop out of the sky. He dug Comerica Park He dug Ford Field. He was responsible for a lot of the buildings in and around here downtown even before Mr. Kilpatrick became mayor. He employed people. They contributed to the economy. He took care of people. He fed poor people. And we hope that the judge takes all that into consideration tomorrow when it's time for sentencing."

He declined to discuss what he'll say to the judge on Friday. He also declined to discuss whether he felt Ferguson got a fair trial.

"I think this trial in many respects was media driven," he said. "That's for the appellate courts to decide, and it's not for me to say. Those kinds of arguments will be made in the appellate briefs."

A key bone of contention for the defense is a $9.6 million figure the government came up with. That's how much the government says Ferguson made in illegal profits stemming from crooked contracts that Kilpatrick helped steer his way.

That figure was never introduced at trial, the defense argues. And there is no proof that Ferguson ever made that kind of money, or shared it with Kilpatrick.

But the government convinced jurors that Kilpatrick benefited from these crimes, introducing evidence that showed he had more than $840,000 in his bank account that his mayoral salary could not cover. They also introduced text messages between the pair in which Kilpatrick discussed steering contracts to Ferguson and holding other deals up, saying things like, "Lets get you some." Ferguson corrected him, texting back, "Us."

(c)2013 the Detroit Free Press

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