By Ashley Woods
Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in prison Thursday, seven months after he was convicted of public corruption in federal court.
It marks the end to another chapter in the saga of Kilpatrick, who was elected mayor of Detroit at the young age of 31. Once mentioned as a possible candidate for president later in life, Detroit’s “hip-hop mayor,” now 43, is generally credited as one of America’s worst mayoral leaders of the past decade.
The former Detroit mayor’s sentencing recommendation called for at least 28 years to life for Kilpatrick, who prosecutors say robbed the City of Detroit of millions through criminal enterprises when it was at its most desperate. It’s “equal to the longest sentence” for corruption ever handed down to a public official, said U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade after the sentencing was announced.
Judge Nancy Edmunds, who announced the sentence Thursday, said that it was important to look at the entire history of the defendant, noting that Kilpatrick’s numerous convictions regarding criminal enterprise were drawn from crimes committed during his entire six-year tenure as Detroit mayor, and possibly even during his time in the Michigan Legislature. It was also important to consider the enormity of the investigation — Edmunds said 34 other people have been convicted for crimes pertaining to Kilpatrick.
“Kwame Kilpatrick was entrusted by the citizens of Detroit to guide their city through one of its most challenging periods,” the prosecution’s memo read. “The city desperately needed resolute leadership. Instead it got a mayor looking to cash in on his office through graft, extortion and self-dealing.”
Kilpatrick was found guilty on 24 counts related to bid-rigging, extortion and bribery in his latest trial, which ended in March. He has already been jailed three times.
In court on Thursday, Kilpatrick briefly addressed the crowd before the sentence was read, choking up as he struggled to speak. “I respectfully ask for a fair sentence, based on what happened here.” he said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “I respect the jury’s verdict … I think your honor knows that I disagree with it.”
He also said his wife, Carlita, and their children were not in attendance.
“One thing is certain,” Edmunds told the courtroom, according to the Detroit Free Press. “It was the citizens of Detroit who suffered.”
Government officials say Kilpatrick and his partner Bobby Ferguson ran a “criminal enterprise” out of Detroit’s City Hall, with Ferguson obtaining at least $76 million in contracts through extortion. Prosecutors say Kilpatrick used the mayor’s office to steer $127 million in contracts to Ferguson, a contractor and head of Ferguson Enterprises. Ferguson was convicted by a jury of nine out of 11 counts he faced during trial. He will be sentenced Friday.
Prosecutors say Ferguson netted a profit of $9.6 million, according to the Detroit Free Press. They are asking that Ferguson and Kilpatrick be responsible for paying that money back to the city. At Thursday’s sentencing hearing, Kilpatrick’s attorney argued that the $9.6 million figure was unsubstantiated and hadn’t been introduced during the trial.
Kilpatrick’s attorneys also countered with a request for 15 years in prison or less, which is more common for public corruption cases involving government officials sentenced in the past decade. “We may see if not the longest, some of the longest sentences that have been given out anywhere in this country for public corruption,” former federal prosecutor Peter Henning told WXYZ-TV.
But prosecutors argued on Thursday that Kilpatrick’s past behavior warranted more punishment from Edmunds– mayoral scandals that weren’t addressed in the trial, like Kilpatrick’s leasing of a Lincoln Navigator for his wife using city funds, as well as more recent violations.
Kilpatrick left the mayor’s office in 2008 after pleading guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice related to a text message sex scandal with his former chief of staff, one of several affairs unearthed during his tenure as mayor. He was charged with perjury after sexually-explicit text messages on city-issued pagers contradicted testimony he had previously given during a whistle-blower’s trial. That scandal rocked the city, earning the Detroit Free Press reporters who broke the story a Pulitzer Prize.
After originally serving only 99 days but violating his probation, Kilpatrick served about a year in prison, and was required to pay the city $1 million in restitution. He still owes more than $850,000 from his original restitution requirement.
The mayor was accused in 2012 of violating his probation several times by not performing required community service and missing his restitution payments. In January of this year, he was caught on video cashing a $2,000 check at a Chicago Walmart. The monies hadn’t been reported to his parole officers.
Kilpatrick has remained optimistic throughout the scandals.
In his resignation speech in 2011, the former mayor told the city that he’d be back.
“Detroit, you done set me up for a comeback.”
In 2011, he authored his own memoir, Surrendered! The Rise, Fall and Revelation of Kwame Kilpatrick, which meted out plenty of blame to his enemies.
“My intent entering office was to empower Detroiters, and my actions heading into my second term suggested that we had the ability to do it,” he wrote. “And that threatened too many people’s bottom line. Their bottom lines for me, then, became simple. Get rid of me. And they’re not finished.”
Since their convictions, both Kilpatrick and Ferguson have been housed at a prison in Milan, Mich. WXYZ reports that the two men will get credit for time served and could have their sentences lessened for good behavior. But federal prisons don’t often parole prisoners, which means that Kilpatrick and Ferguson could both serve the bulk of their sentences (85 percent) unless they are lessened after appeal. He would be 71 years old when released, if he serves his entire sentence.