DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick returns to court Thursday to face what is likely to be one of the longer sentences in recent cases of public corruption, the result of two dozen convictions that range from bribery to extortion to tax crimes.
While the city’s finances foundered, Kilpatrick was shaking down contractors, ensuring that a pal got millions in city work and turning a nonprofit fund to help struggling Detroiters into a personal slush fund, according to evidence at his five-month trial.
Federal prosecutors are recommending Kilpatrick serve at least 28 years in prison, while defense attorneys are hoping the sentence doesn’t exceed 15 years. The U.S. Attorney in Detroit also wants Kilpatrick and co-defendant Bobby Ferguson to pay $9.6 million in restitution.
“He created a ‘pay-to-play’ system for the provision of city goods and services, which compromised vast swaths of city government, including the water and sewer system, the convention center, the pension system, casino developments and recreation centers,” prosecutors said in a court filing last week. “City government essentially became up for grabs for the right price.”
Kilpatrick, 43, quit office in 2008 because of a different scandal involving sexually explicit text messages and an extramarital affair.
He was forced out while the auto industry was nearing collapse and Detroit’s unstable finances were deteriorating even more. The city now is run by a state-appointed emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, who took Detroit into Chapter 9 bankruptcy last summer as a last-ditch effort to fix billions of dollars in debt.
“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.
Defense attorneys called it a “cheap shot,” noting Kilpatrick has been out of office for five years.
“The government’s attempt to roll the city of Detroit’s 2013 bankruptcy filing into the … case oversimplifies the complex problems that Detroit has faced for more than five decades,” Harold Gurewitz and Margaret Raben wrote.
They want U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds to give some credit to Kilpatrick for the 2006 Super Bowl and 2005 baseball All-Star Game in Detroit, as well as 75 new downtown businesses.
“The almost constant barrage of critical, hostile and deprecating commentary in the media that began within about two years after he took office has served to obscure numerous and significant accomplishments of Kilpatrick and his administration,” defense attorneys said.
Agents who pored over bank accounts and credit cards said Kilpatrick spent $840,000 beyond his salary during his time as mayor. His trial attorney, James Thomas, tried to portray the money as generous gifts from political supporters who opened their wallets for birthdays or holidays.
In their sentencing memo, Kilpatrick’s lawyers made a point that’s commonly argued in cases of high-profile criminals: Our client already has suffered deeply. Kilpatrick is “infamous, destitute and disgraced,” the attorneys said.
WWJ and CBSDetroit.com will be in the courtroom as Kilpatrick is sentenced.
The law allows any defendant to speak to the court before being sentencing, but what will Kilpatrick say?
“If I had to guess, I would say that in this particular case, it would be unusual if the former mayor did not speak,” Cooley Law professor and former federal prosecutor Alan Gershel told WWJ, adding that there really isn’t anything Kilpatrick could say to help his case.
“Standing up there and not accepting responsibility and basically rejecting the jury’s verdict certainly couldn’t help the situation, though I would be surprised to hear [an apology],” Gershel said.
Stay with WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBSDetroit.com for updates.
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