Kwame M. Kilpatrick, Former Detroit Mayor, Sentenced to 28 Years in Corruption Case
By STEVEN YACCINO
Published: October 10, 2013
DETROIT — Kwame M. Kilpatrick, the former mayor of Detroit, stood before a federal judge on Thursday and apologized for putting the people of his city through a corruption scandal so vast that prosecutors say it helped accelerate Detroit’s march toward bankruptcy.
“They’re hurting,” Mr. Kilpatrick said. “A great deal of that hurt I accept full responsibility for.”
They were solemn words from the formerly boisterous figure, a bear of a man at 6 feet 4 inches who many believed would lead Detroit out of its long economic downturn. But on Thursday he stood slouched, wearing a tan prison uniform instead of the flashy suits he once favored. Court officers replaced the entourage of bodyguards that used to follow him around. The diamond that once studded his ear, an emblem of his reputation as the “hip-hop mayor,” was gone.
Then, declaring an end to the bribery and thieving that marked the Kilpatrick administration, Judge Nancy G. Edmunds of United States District Court imposed the sentence prosecutors had sought: 28 years in prison.
Mr. Kilpatrick, 43, was convicted in March of two dozen counts that included charges of racketeering and extortion, adding his name to a list of at least 18 city officials who have been convicted of corruption during his tenure. His punishment ranks among the harshest major state and local public corruption cases.
Lawyers for Mr. Kilpatrick said that they intend to file an appeal of the convictions and sentence.
The hearing came at a sobering moment for the city he once led, which is now remaking itself in bankruptcy court as residents wrestle over whom to blame for the fiscal mess. For Detroiters, Mr. Kilpatrick’s meteoric fall — from potential savior of a struggling city to prison-bound symbol of financial mismanagement — may be the closest they will get to holding past leaders accountable for decades of disappointment and poor fiscal decisions.
“He’s become the poster child of what went wrong with the city and why it went bankrupt,” said Adolph Mongo, a political consultant who worked for Mr. Kilpatrick’s re-election campaign. But it was unfair to pin the city’s problems on any single elected leader, he said.
“It was a house of cards,” added Mr. Mongo about Detroit’s fiscal health. “Kilpatrick was the last card. He fell, and it knocked everything down.”
Joseph Harris, a former auditor general for the city during Mr. Kilpatrick’s first term, said that the former mayor was just one in a string of leaders who failed to fully address the crisis of a shrinking tax base amid growing employee health care and pension costs.
Mr. Kilpatrick also increased the city’s debt obligations to fill budget gaps while he was in office. A $1.44 billion borrowing deal he brokered in 2005 to restructure the city’s pension liabilities, though applauded by many at the time, added to the city’s estimated $18 billion in long-term liabilities.
At 31, Mr. Kilpatrick became the youngest person to hold the city’s top position when he was first elected in 2001. He brought new attractions to the city’s riverfront and much-needed business investment downtown. But scandals dogged his nearly seven years in office, ultimately ending a political career that had once seemed destined for the national stage.
In 2008, Mr. Kilpatrick resigned after he lied under oath during a police whistle-blower lawsuit and approved an $8.4 million settlement to try to cover it up. After pleading guilty to charges of obstruction of justice, Mr. Kilpatrick served four months in jail and was ordered to pay $1 million to the city. He was soon behind bars again for hiding assets from the court and telling a judge that he could afford to pay only $6 a month in restitution.
The former mayor and Bobby W. Ferguson, a city contractor and a friend, were indicted in 2010 on sweeping federal corruption charges. All told, prosecutors contend that Mr. Ferguson received $73 million worth of city contracts as a result of an extortion scheme that involved Mr. Kilpatrick, netting $9.6 million in illegal profit. Mr. Ferguson was convicted of nine counts and will be sentenced on Friday.
“The amount of crime, it was astonishing and it had a huge impact on this city,” Mark Chutkow, one of the prosecutors, said as he left the courthouse on Thursday.
Mr. Kilpatrick’s lawyer, Harold Z. Gurewitz, who pushed for a sentence of no more than 15 years, argued in court that Mr. Kilpatrick was being unfairly targeted as a scapegoat for Detroit’s insolvency, with people trying to “send him out with the sins of the city over the last 50 years.” The sentence, he said in an interview later, was tougher than necessary and stiffer than some people get for violent crimes.
Among some of the highest penalties for recent public corruption convictions, James C. Dimora, former commissioner of Cuyahoga County in Ohio, was sentenced last year to 28 years in prison for racketeering and bribery. A year before, Rod R. Blagojevich, former governor of Illinois, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for convictions that included trying to sell the Senate seat President Obama left open when he went to the White House.
In her ruling on Thursday, Judge Edmunds said her decision was another strong warning to elected officials.
“That way of business is over,” she said. “We’re done. We’re moving forward.”
Judge Edmunds agreed to recommend that Mr. Kilpatrick serve his prison term in Texas, where his family now lives.
A version of this article appears in print on October 11, 2013, on page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: Ex-Mayor Sentenced to 28 Years in Corruption Case That Helped Detroit Go Broke.