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Former Detroit Mayor Convicted of Racketeering, Extortion

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his longtime contractor friend Bobby Ferguson were convicted of racketeering and extortion, marking an end to a more than decade-long public corruption investigation.

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his longtime contractor friend Bobby Ferguson were convicted of racketeering and extortion Monday, marking an end to a more than decade-long public corruption investigation.

Kilpatrick was convicted on 24 of 30 counts, including five counts of extortion, racketeering, bribery and several mail, wire and tax fraud charges. On three counts, he was found not guilty, and on three no verdict was reached.

Ferguson was found guilty on nine of 11 counts, including racketeering and several counts of extortion. He was found not guilty on one count. No verdict was reached on another.

Bernard Kilpatrick, the former mayor's father, was convicted on one of four counts _ a tax charge. There was no verdict for him on the racketeering charge, and he was found not guilty on two other charges: attempted extortion and a tax charge.

Coming out of the courthouse, Bernard Kilpatrick was asked whether he believes the jury got it wrong.

"Absolutely," he said, before being whisked away in a red Ford Mustang.

The most serious charges, including racketeering and mail fraud, carry maximum 20-year prison sentences. Other crimes in the indictment, such as bribery and extortion, each carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence. The Kilpatricks also faced tax charges, which carry three-year maximum prison sentences.

The most weighty of the charges was the one levied under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, or RICO, a 1970 law that initially was designed to combat organized crime but has since been used in several public corruption trials. In the Detroit case, prosecutors charged the group they called the "Kilpatrick Enterprise" engaged in a pattern of criminal activity _ one of the requirements of RICO _ that included at least two criminal acts.

Asked to comment after the hearing, Kwame Kilpatrick said, "Not at this time." Coming out of the courthouse, Ferguson said, "God is good."

The defendants were accused of, among other things, shaking down contractors and rigging bids to help steer lucrative contracts to Ferguson. Prosecutors said the philosophy of the enterprise was simple: If you wanted work in the City of Detroit, you either had to hire Ferguson or, in some cases, hire the mayor's father as a consultant.

That was one of the main themes in the government's nearly five-month trial, which featured a mountain of evidence that included 80 government witnesses, scores of bank records, contract agreements, text messages and secret video and audio recordings. The jury also heard about Kilpatrick's lavish lifestyle and his nonprofit Kilpatrick Civic Fund, which the government said the ex-mayor used as a personal piggy bank. Prosecutors said the fund was meant for voter education and youth, but Kilpatrick used it for everything from yoga lessons and vacation getaways to college tuition for his relatives and spy equipment.

Several businessmen also testified that they lavished Kilpatrick with vacations, custom-made suits and jewelry because they wanted to keep him happy, and they needed help with city deals.

All three men vigorously denied the charges, saying they never demanded anything of anyone and were committed to helping minority businesses grow.

When the trial started last fall, it included a fourth defendant _ ex-city water director Victor Mercado. But he pleaded guilty during trial to conspiracy and awaits sentencing.

(c)2013 Detroit Free Press

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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