Emma Bell (David Coates / The Detroit News)
Detroit — A political fundraiser for former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and star witness in his corruption trial was sentenced in a Detroit federal court Thursday to two years probation for tax evasion.
Emma Bell’s sentence was handed down Thursday afternoon by U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds.
“It’s unfortunate you got caught up in the underlying activity that characterized the corruption of the Kilpatrick administration,” Edmunds said. “It’s clear you recognized your mistake early on and came forward to rectify it.”
Edmunds also ordered Bell to pay restitution of more than $334,000 and to perform 100 hours of community service, banned her from going to casinos and said she must attend a substance abuse program.
Bell, 70, offered some of the most compelling testimony during Kilpatrick’s five-month trial, which ended with him receiving a 28-year prison sentence. She testified about dipping into her bra for wads of cash to pay Kilpatrick kickbacks that totaled more than $200,000.
Outside the courtroom after sentencing, Bell summed up her feelings: “I’m so relieved. I’m a lot better than I was when I first walked through the door.”
She was joined at the hearing by supporters, friends and family, including son Kofi Bell and Detroit Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins.
Guidelines for Bell’s sentencing ranged from 18 months to 24 months in prison, but prosecutors asked Edmunds to cut it in half.
Her attorney, Avery Bradley, asked the judge for no prison time for his client, saying she’s suffered enough and “mainly because of Ms. Bell’s substantial assistance in the investigation and prosecution of another person who has committed an offense.” He also cited her acceptance of responsibility for her own conduct, according to a sentencing memorandum he filed with the court on Wednesday.
Bell was the first person from inside the so-called “Kilpatrick Enterprise” to document the alleged abuse of the ex-mayor’s political office. She testified she regularly handed Kilpatrick $100 and $50 bills, in what prosecutors call an illegal windfall.
Bell testified she delivered the kickbacks to Kilpatrick at his City Hall office or at his home and carried the money around in her pocket or her bra. She said she would hand him $8,000 or $10,000.
From 2003 to 2008, Bell was paid more than $900,000 for raising money for Kilpatrick’s mayoral campaign fund, his inaugural committee, his Kilpatrick Civic Fund and a nonprofit group headed by Kilpatrick’s sister, Ayanna, according to court testimony. Prosecutors said Kilpatrick pocketed nearly $300,000 in kickbacks from Bell.
The crime was Bell’s first offense, Edmunds said.
Bell never claimed the income on her taxes and owed the Internal Revenue Service more than $334,000. She pleaded guilty to two counts of income tax evasion on Oct. 3, 2011.
Associated Press contributed.