Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick should be sent to prison for at least 28 years for “astonishing” corruption that enriched him and his family while a desperate city slid toward financial collapse, prosecutors said Oct. 3.
The 51-page filing came a week before Kilpatrick is to be sentenced in federal court for two dozen crimes, including racketeering conspiracy, fraud and tax offenses. The government presented a scathing summary of evidence from his months-long trial and said the corruption tops all recent cases prosecuted elsewhere in federal court.
Detroit “desperately needed resolute leadership. Instead it got a mayor looking to cash in on his office through graft, extortion and self-dealing,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Detroit is being run by emergency manager Kevyn Orr, who is trying to restructure at least $18 billion of long-term debt in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. He was appointed by the state in March, 4 ½ years after Kilpatrick left office in a different scandal.
“Kilpatrick is not the main culprit of the city’s historic bankruptcy, which is the result of larger social and economic forces at work for decades. But his corrupt administration exacerbated the crisis,” prosecutors said.
Agents at trial said Kilpatrick spent $840,000 beyond his salary during his stint as mayor, from 2002 to fall 2008. There was evidence of bribes passed in brown bags and in a bathroom. A campaign fundraiser said she pulled money from her bra, and city contractors testified that they were ordered to give work to pal Bobby Ferguson—or lose it.
The government said Kilpatrick, 43, also tapped a nonprofit fund, which was created to help distressed Detroit residents, to pay for yoga, camps for his kids, golf clubs and travel.
“And worst of all, he did it all in a city where poverty, crime and lack of basic services made it one of the most vulnerable metropolitan areas in the nation,” prosecutors said. “The scale of his corruption was astonishing. The impact on the region was devastating.”
Kilpatrick and Ferguson will be sentenced on Oct. 10. In a separate filing, the government said Ferguson's punishment should be similar. Prosecutors said $73 million of his $127 million in revenue from city work came through extortion.
“While Ferguson relied on Kilpatrick to back up his threats, Ferguson drove the extortion machine,” prosecutors said.
A message seeking comment was left with defense attorney Harold Gurewitz. Ferguson’s attorney, Mike Rataj, declined to comment.
The government's court filing carries references to public officials in other states who have been convicted of corruption in recent years. Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison for trying to peddle President Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat for personal gain.
“Kilpatrick’s widespread and corrosive breach of the public trust, lasting throughout his six-year tenure in office, exceeds even the worst of these state and local corruption cases,” prosecutors said.
Kilpatrick, a Democrat, quit as mayor in 2008 and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in a separate scandal involving sexually explicit text messages and an affair with his chief of staff. The corruption charges were filed in 2010.
Kilpatrick and Ferguson have been in custody since they were convicted in March.
“Detroit has now entered a painful period of reassessment and unprecedented financial constraints. With hard work and good fortune, the city will rise again. But it will do so without—and in spite of—its former leader,” the government said.