Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, shown in court at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in 2010, will get an unchallenged opportunity Thursday in federal court to tout his accomplishments and lessen a potentially decades-long prison sentence by showing remorse. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Detroit— Don’t expect a mea culpa or apology from Kwame Kilpatrick when the disgraced former Detroit mayor is sentenced today for a reign of corruption that weakened the city and damaged faith in public officials, legal experts and former associates said.
Kilpatrick, 43, who did not testify during his five-month corruption trial, will get an unchallenged opportunity at 10 a.m. in federal court to tout his accomplishments and lessen a potentially decades-long prison sentence by showing remorse. He could, however, provoke a stiffer sentence by denying responsibility or criticizing the court, experts said.
Lawyers who have tangled with Kilpatrick in court, legal experts and one public official convicted of corruption weighed in on what they expect the former mayor will say and offered advice for getting a lesser sentence in one of the biggest public corruption cases in U.S. history.
“He could tell the judge where the missing millions are,” said Bloomfield Hills lawyer Norman Yatooma, who sued Kilpatrick and the city for $150 million on behalf of the family of slain stripper Tamara “Strawberry” Greene. “What he will do is insist on his innocence and talk about how he was discriminated against by the judicial system — and get everything that he’s got coming to him.”
The sentencing caps a nearly decade-long federal investigation of corruption and trial that exposed a criminal enterprise in which contracts were steered to Kilpatrick friend Bobby Ferguson. During the scheme, Kilpatrick dipped into the city treasury and squeezed contractors to fund a lifestyle that included private jet travel and luxury resort stays.
Kilpatrick was found guilty on 24 counts, including racketeering, extortion, bribery and tax evasion. His friend and co-defendant Bobby Ferguson, 44, was found guilty of nine crimes, including racketeering, extortion and bribery, and will be sentenced Friday.
The former mayor’s father, Bernard Kilpatrick, faces up to two years in prison on a tax charge when he is sentenced Oct. 17.
Prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds to send Kwame Kilpatrick to prison for at least 28 years. The former mayor’s lawyers have asked the sentence be for no more than 15 years.
Given Kwame Kilpatrick’s criminal record, his history of lying on the witness stand during a police whistleblower trial, and his repeated denials of wrongdoing in the City Hall corruption trial suggest he will not offer a genuine apology, the experts said.
An apology or admission could hurt his expected appeal, they added.
“I would be surprised if he comes in and says he made a tragic mistake and falls on his sword and admits he is a crook,” said Keith Corbett, former chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Organized Crime Strike Force in Detroit. “If he doesn’t do that, it is going to be very hard for the judge to cut him some slack.”
Edmunds has wide latitude. She can follow sentencing guidelines, which call for up to life in prison. Or she can accept the prosecutors recommendation. The judge can go above or beyond the recommended sentences.
Edmunds does not have a reputation of issuing short or unnecessarily harsh sentences, Corbett said.
“I think she is considered middle of the road,” Corbett said.
Last year, Edmunds sentenced underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to four life terms for trying to destroy a Detroit-bound airliner carrying 289 people on Christmas Day 2009.
Corbett said a genuine apology and remorse can shave about 18 months off a sentence.
“I would be surprised if he acknowledges that he is guilty,” Corbett said of Kilpatrick. “He will probably talk about what he thinks the appellate issues are. The problem is: Until the judge speaks the magic words of what the sentence is, he can tick her off.”
Kilpatrick likely will emphasize how much he will miss his family, the ex-mayor’s former spokesman Mike Paul said.
“I know his heart and that he is concerned about his family, that he loves them and he wants to make sure that message is heard,” Paul said.
Former Southfield City Councilman William Lattimore knows what it is like to be a public official sentenced to prison.
“It’s your darkest hour,” Lattimore said. “I don’t know what it’s like to die, but other than death, it’s really your darkest hour.”
Lattimore pleaded guilty to bribery after he was picked up on a wiretap of Detroit political consultant Sam Riddle’s cell phone. Lattimore was sentenced to 18 months in prison and released last year.
“I can’t speak for Mr. Kilpatrick but I was very, very humbled by the whole situation,” Lattimore said. “I owned up to it and kept my head down.”
Lattimore said he sympathizes with Kilpatrick’s family.
“Particularly his kids. This is going to be a very, very difficult time for them,” Lattimore said. “I pray for them.”
Kilpatrick should ask for leniency, Lattimore said.
“If I was him, I would be very contrite and very humble,” Lattimore said. “I’m not sure that type of mercy can be found considering what he was charged with. This is no joke what he’s going to be dealing with.”