Detroit — Kwame Kilpatrick has been sentenced to serve 28 years in prison for crimes of racketeering and conspiracy committed during his six years as the mayor of Detroit. That sentence was handed down Thursday afternoon in federal court by Judge Nancy Edmunds.
Edmunds said she was required to issue a sentence that is “sufficient but not greater than necessary” for a criminal enterprise that ran from Kilpatrick’s time in the state House to the mayor’s office. She described the former mayor as a larger-than-life character who helped himself to a jet-setting lifestyle. A significant sentence, she said, sends the message that corruption won’t be tolerated.
Kilpatrick appeared stunned at hearing his sentence, and a few in the courtroom crowd could be heard saying “Oh no.” If he serves the entirety of the 28 years, the 43-year-old would be 71 when he walks out of prison.
After declining to testify on his own behalf during the trial, Kilpatrick spoke before Edmunds made her ruling. It was an emotional and occasionally apologetic speech that included the admission: “I really messed up.”
“We’ve been stuck in this town for a very long time dealing with me,” he said. “I’m ready to go so the city can move on.”
His speech touched on a variety of subjects from his time in office and beyond, including:
■His affair with his former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty: “I was mad at people for finding out.”
■His own shortcomings: “It was pride and ego that took over. I couldn’t lose.”
■His resignation from office: “I didn't realize then that I beat down the spirit and energy and vibrance of what was going on in the city.”
■His father, Bernard Kilpatrick: “He’s a real good man.”
■Stealing money from the city: “I’ve never done that.”
■The city of Detroit: “I want the city to be great again,” and to have a feeling “like it had during the 2006 SuperBowl.”
■His mother Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick’s term in office: “I killed her career.”
It did not take long for reactions to begin coming in.
Passion spilled over in front of the federal courthouse on Lafayette Boulevard between Kilpatrick supporters and detractors afterthe sentencing of the once-popular mayor.
Downtown Detroit restaurant owner Larry Mongo told reporters he agreed with the sentence, but was immediately rebuked by another man who hurled expletives and insults at him.
Other skirmishes erupted on either side of Lafayette. Law enforcement officers were outside to keep the peace.
The exchange between Mongo and the other man brought Dean Ruffin to tears. She shrieked and cried out on the steps of the federal courthouseabout the many problems affectingAfrican-Americans in Detroit and across the country.
“(Kilpatrick) is not the only black man who did it,” said Ruffin, who was was comforted by guards outside the courthouse.
The Rev. Malik Shabazz and a handful of members of the Marcus Garvey Movement were upset by the judge's ruling, saying the sentence was yet another example of 500 years of oppression of African-Americans.
“I think the judge could have been merciful. I think I would have liked to have seen the judge to look at the good that the man did and that he has a family,” Shabazz said.
The Rev. W.J. Rideout, who occassionally counseled members of the Kilpatrick family, sat in the courtroom during the sentencing. As he stood outside the courthouse watching the overflow of emotion, he became visibly upset.
“The judge did her job. She made a statement," Rideout said. “Political corruption is not going to stop her. Crime does not stop because one person gets convicted.”
Anthony Kasperek, 28, who works in the financial services sector, was not surprised by the explosion of anger on Lafayette.
“There have been years of pent up emotion on either side, years of suffocation that just surfaced,” said Kasperek, who stopped in front of the federal courthouse to watch the momentary chaos.
As for Kilpatrick's sentence, “personally, for what he did to the city of Detroit I expected it. And I'm OK with it,” Kasperek said.
Within minutes of the sentencing announcement, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson took to his Twitter account, writing:
“What bothers me most is the sacrifice of a potentially brilliant career.#KwameKilpatrick”
“They guy was intelligent, charismatic and greedy as hell.#KwameKilpatrick.”
“This is the end of a long Greek tragedy.#KwameKilpatrick.”
Barbara McQuade, the U.S. Attorney who oversaw Kilpatrick’s prosecution said: “This is an historic day in City of Detroit. ... It’s a powerful sentence and it sends a powerful message, I think, that the people of Detroit won’t tolerate this abuse of the public trust.”
As for Kilpatrick’s speech in court, McQuade had a mixed review.
“At the end of the day he did not accept responsibility for stealing from the people.”
Prior to Kilpatrick’s address, his attorneys went to bat for him, saying he should not be punished for the sins of the city’s last 50 years. Their client, they said, hopes to use his ability and talents productively in the future. Kilpatrick’s legal team had pushed for their client to receive no more than 15 years and had asked the judge to send him to prison in Texas where his wife and children now live.
Given their turn, prosecutors called Kilpatrick’s collected misdeeds “one of the most significant cases of public corruption … in the entire country.”
The former mayor arrived in the courtroom just after 10 a.m., handcuffed and in khaki prison attire. During the early portion of the hearing, he appeared subdued, sitting with his elbows on the defense table as his attorneys argued he should receive no more than 15 years.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys haggled over the estimated $9.6 million in profits reaped by Kilpatrick and co-defendant contractor Bobby Ferguson in their racketeering scheme. After hearing roughly 20 minutes of arguments on that key point, U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds set a conservative estimate of $4.6 million for sentencing purposes.
Family members, many of whom sat through large portions of his trial, were not on hand, including wife, Carlita, and his parents, Bernard and Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick.
Jurors found Kilpatrick, once the city’s favorite political son, guilty of 24 counts of misconduct — including racketeering and conspiracy — during his time in office. Today, seven months after the verdict, he faced the possibility of a prison term that could have kept him incarcerated for the remainder of his life.
The courtroom at the Theodore Levin federal courthouse in downtown Detroit began filling up with attorneys and observers more than an hour ahead of the 10 a.m. start time for Thursday’s sentencing. Kilpatrick arrived at 9:25 a.m. in the company of the U.S. Marshall’s Service after being transported from prison in Milan.
That final decision will be made by Edmunds, who oversaw the trial involving Kilpatrick and co-defendants Ferguson and Bernard Kilpatrick — a trial that ran for six months.
Andrew Arena, director of the Detroit Crime Commission and former head of the Detroit FBI, said Kilpatrick and Ferguson did themselves no favors.
“What’s not helping these guys was the fact they were committing crimes during the trial, hiding money,” he said. “(The judge must) send a message. These sentences (of public officials) used to be 10-12 months. I think now the court is trying to send a message that this is unacceptable.”
Ferguson’s sentencing is scheduled for Friday.
Kilpatrick and Ferguson were convicted of charges related to running a criminal enterprise and dipping into the city treasury to fund lifestyles that included custom-made suits, private jet travel and luxury resort stays.
In court documents filed earlier this month, prosecutors wrote: “Kwame Kilpatrick was entrusted by the citizens of Detroit to guide their city through one of its most challenging periods. The city desperately needed resolute leadership. Instead it got a mayor looking to cash in on his office through graft, extortion and self-dealing.”
Of Ferguson, they wrote: “It was Ferguson, rather than Kilpatrick, who was the ‘boots on the ground’ of the extortion enterprise, directly issuing threats to the local business people.”
George Hunter, Serena Maria Daniels and Oralandar Brand-Williams contributed.