Former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who turned Detroit into his personal wallet, was sentenced Monday to 28 years in prison for corruption in the city that has become the modern face of municipal bankruptcy.
The city’s chief executive from 2002 to 2008, Kilpatrick was convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, fraud, extortion and tax crimes as part of what prosecutors called the “Kilpatrick enterprise,” years of forcing contractors to pay off a confederate who made the money available to the mayor. In a wide pattern of corruption, Kilpatrick received more than $840,000 to pay for personal needs like yoga and camp for his kids as well as his personal travel and lifestyle, the prosecution charged.
Addressing U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds in a soft voice, Kilpatrick accepted responsibility for his crimes.
“I know you have to render a sentence,” he said, according to the report of the court proceedings in the Detroit Free Press. “I respectfully ask for a fair sentence, based on what happened here.”
Kilpatrick went on to say he believes “that I really, really, really messed up.”
Edmunds said the seriousness of Kilpatrick’s crimes was compounded by the involvement of city officials and others. Thirty-four other people have been convicted in connection with the public corruption case that has marred the Motor City’s reputation.
“One thing is certain,” Edmunds said. “It was the citizens of Detroit who suffered.”
Corruption is just one factor cited in Detroit’s current fiscal woes. Pension liabilities, falling population, sinking tax receipts and declining municipal services are all more relevant factors in explaining municipal collapse than corruption.
“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 in a court filing last week.
According to the charges, Kilpatrick, 43, insisted contractors pay to play. The recipient of the cash was a friend, Bobby Ferguson, an excavator who got millions of dollars in city work through the water department. Contractors said they were forced to take on Ferguson as a partner or risk losing lucrative deals. The government alleged that he then shared cash with Kilpatrick.
“A man with the charisma and ability of Mr. Kilpatrick chose to use his talents on personal aggrandizement and enrichment when he had the potential to do so much for the city,” Edmunds said before imposing the sentence, according to the Associated Press.
The sentence was a victory for prosecutors, who had recommended Kilpatrick serve at least 28 years in prison, while defense attorneys argued for no more than 15.
Kilpatrick, a Democrat, quit office in 2008 during a different scandal. Like other politicians, he was undone by sexually explicit text messages that revealed that Kilpatrick had lied during a trial to cover up an affair with a top aide. He also was accused of lying to hide the reasons for demoting or firing police officers who suspected wrongdoing at City Hall.
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