Kwame Kilpatrick was Detroit’s mayor from 2002 until he resigned in 2008, on Thursday he was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison after being convicted in March of this year in a range of federal charges including, racketeering, extortion, and filing false tax returns. The conviction stemmed from a 38-charge RICO felony indictment, in what a federal prosecutor called a “pattern of extortion, bribery and fraud.” Defense attorneys had requested a prison term of 10 to 15 years and prosecutors had requested the 28-year minimum.
Before being sentenced, Kilpatrick apologized, “I say with every morsel of my being that I’m sorry to you.”
Judge Nancy G. Edmunds took the apology into consideration and said that Kilpatrick was showing “more awareness” of the seriousness of his crimes then before.
However, she said, “A long prison sentence is necessary to insulate the public from his behavior. That way of business is over. We’re done…”
Kilpatrick was the largest target in the investigation into Detroit City Hall corruption that led to the convictions of two-dozen people over several years, including former City Councilwoman Monica Conyers (who pled guilty in 2010 to conspiracy to commit bribery and received a sentence of 37 months in prison with two years of supervised probation), the wife of U.S. Rep. John Conyers. Federal prosecutors alleged that Kilpatrick basically used his mayoral office to run a criminal enterprise. He used his position to enrich himself and his close friends and associates through bid rigging and extortion. He also used nonprofit funds for personal gain.
At the heart of the corruption was the municipal contracting process, which mostly centered on the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. The judge said she was not holding Kilpatrick responsible for Detroit’s currently pending bankruptcy petition, but that his crimes did cause a loss of public trust and a loss of income to honest contractors.
Kilpatrick’s tenure as mayor was plagued with numerous scandals and corruption allegations including the murder of Tamara Greene, whistleblowers, text-messaging scandal, assaulting a police officer, abuse of power, and preferential hiring practices. Before this conviction, he was convicted of other felony charges, including perjury and obstruction of justice and was sentenced to four months after pleading guilty. He served 99 days of that sentence before being released on probation. Later in 2010, he was sentenced to between 18 months to 5 years in prison for violating probation.
Others charged in the Detroit corruption probe included Kilpatrick’s father Bernard Kilpatrick, his former aide Derrick Miller, former Water Chief Victor Mercado, and Bobby Ferguson, Kilpatrick’s longtime friend and a city contractor. The men were collectively called ‘The Kilpatrick Enterprise’.
“We want to send a strong detriment message that if you steal from taxpayers, you will be held accountable…” said U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade following the grand jury indictment of the men.
Detroit’s city hall operated more like an organized crime syndicate than a government office. If a contractor wanted to win work from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, they had to give a piece of the contract to Bobby Ferguson. There were 13 schemes documented by prosecutors involving city contracts worth tens of millions of dollars.
In one scheme, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick held up a previously approved $50 million sewer line contract until the contractor replaced a subcontractor with Ferguson. Kilpatrick also pressured officials to give the Book-Cadillac restoration and Tiger Stadium demolition contracts to Ferguson, even though he was not the lowest bidder. The board of the Economic Development Corporation voted to award the Tiger Stadium contract to a different contractor per the recommendation of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, but Kilpatrick’s Chief of Staff Kandia Milton demanded that a DEGC official resign. The official refused. Ferguson still ended up getting the contract to the “determent of other…contractors” and at an inflated cost to taxpayers. The Kilpatricks and Kilpatrick’s aide Miller received bribes from contractors including private plane rides and cash in exchange for consideration for pension fund investments and city business. They also took money from campaign and non-profit funds for themselves.