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Detroit — Kwame Kilpatrick is crying poor again.

In a rare public letter, the imprisoned former Detroit mayor says he can't afford to hire an attorney to fight attempts by the city's water department to have him pay $19 million for orchestrating a corrupt contract.

Before being indicted in 2010, Kilpatrick lived a lavish lifestyle bankrolled, in part, by billionaires Dan Gilbert and Roger Penske, and counted powerful attorneys as friends. Now, more than a year into a 28-year prison sentence, Kilpatrick says he can't raise cash or find a lawyer willing to help him fight a civil lawsuit filed by the water department.

"After speaking to several attorneys, and even asking for referrals from attorneys that are currently representing me in other matters, I have been unable to hire an attorney," Kilpatrick, 44, wrote April 20 to U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow, who is overseeing the lawsuit. "I don't have the money to pay the requested attorney's fees, nor do I have anyone that I can ask for help in this effort."

The lawsuit stems from a controversial Macomb County sewer collapse and repair project. In 2011, Macomb County officials sued, claiming corruption led to nearly $26 million in overbilling for the repair of a Sterling Heights sewer line.

The $25.5 million lawsuit accused Kilpatrick, Detroit's former water boss Victor Mercado, contractor Bobby Ferguson and Kilpatrick's former aide, Derrick Miller, of scheming to steal money from the sinkhole repair project for themselves.

The water department intervened in the lawsuit in an attempt to recoup costs from Kilpatrick and Mercado.

In October, the city asked Tarnow to enter a $19 million judgment against Kilpatrick and Mercado.

In his April 20 letter, Kilpatrick said the city is wrong and he asked for more time to respond to the lawsuit.

"The current misinformation, speculation, rumor, innuendo, and 'blame game'…has destroyed many lives," Kilpatrick wrote.

Kilpatrick typed the letter April 20 from the Oklahoma medium-security prison where he is serving 28 years for racketeering conspiracy and other charges.

Kilpatrick's court-appointed appellate lawyer, Harold Gurewitz, would not discuss whether Kilpatrick approached him about fighting the civil lawsuit.

"And I haven't seen the letter," Gurewitz told The News. "He's kind of stuck, and it's an unfortunate circumstance. Defending a lawsuit is not a small undertaking, particularly one asking for as much money as this is."

The letter coincides with a new Internal Revenue Service investigation into Kilpatrick's finances. The IRS, as first reported by The Detroit News, is trying to track down everyone who gave money to the disgraced former mayor from 1992 to 2008, the year he resigned amid the text-message scandal.

The IRS also is seeking records of all bank accounts and real estate deals involving Kilpatrick and his wife, Carlita.

In December 2012, four months before he was convicted of racketeering and other charges, Kilpatrick said he was $1.8 million in debt. That debt included $240,000 in loans from Compuware co-founder Peter Karmanos Jr., Penske, Gilbert and businessman James Nicholson.

Kilpatrick's debt has ballooned in recent years.

After being convicted, Kilpatrick was ordered to pay almost $4.6 million to the city's water department, which was victimized by the mayor's racketeering conspiracy, and more than $195,000 to the IRS.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2028

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