Kwame Kilpatrick loses appeals bid

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

A federal appeals panel refused to grant former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick a new trial Friday, upholding his racketeering conviction and 28-year prison sentence.

A three-judge appeals panel in Cincinnati said Kilpatrick failed to prove his trial lawyers had a conflict of interest and failed to show that his lawyers were ineffective. Kilpatrick and Detroit contractor Bobby Ferguson also failed to show they were prejudiced by testimony from federal agents during the trial, according to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kilpatrick scored a minor victory: Judges Richard A. Griffin, Eugene Siler Jr. and Helene White vacated the $4.5 million restitution Kilpatrick was ordered to pay the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, saying the figure was incorrectly calculated.

The restitution issue was sent back to U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds in Detroit.

The opinion is the latest setback for Kilpatrick, who was sentenced to 28 years in prison for running a criminal racket out of City Hall, one of the longest corruption sentences in U.S. history. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also affirmed the conviction of Ferguson, who was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison.

The opinion comes seven months after Kilpatrick, 45, argued that his trial counsel had a conflict of interest, among other issues that deprived him of his rights. Kilpatrick wanted to vacate his corruption conviction and get a new trial in Detroit.

“Very disappointing,” Kilpatrick lawyer Harold Gurewitz told The Detroit News on Friday. He did not immediately vow to ask the full 6th Circuit to review the appeal or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Gurewitz added: “This is far from the end of the line.”

Federal prosecutors welcomed the opinion Friday.

“We are gratified that the jury's verdict has been upheld and believe that the decision is thorough and well-reasoned,” said Gina Balaya, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.

During oral arguments in January, three U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals judges peppered attorneys for Kilpatrick and co-defendant Bobby Ferguson, 46, with questions about how the issues they raised affected the trial outcome.

A prosecutor said during the trial that Kilpatrick, who quit in 2008 over text messages revealing an affair with former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty, turned City Hall into a “private profit machine” by rigging contracts and demanding bribes. He's serving his time in El Reno, Oklahoma.

Gurewitz said his client didn't get a fair trial for reasons including that his trial attorneys were affiliated with a law firm suing Kilpatrick in a civil case related to the corruption charges. Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Goetz countered that the attorneys had an "ethical wall" between the cases and there was no evidence of a conflict that affected the criminal case.

“...assuming there had been an actual conflict, Kilpatrick points to little evidence in the record that suggests his counsel did anything detrimental to his defense or failed to do something that was clearly advantageous,” the judges wrote Friday.

Kilpatrick’s lead trial attorney, James C. Thomas, could not be reached immediately Friday. Co-counsel, Michael Naughton, declined comment.

Ferguson's attorney, Susan Van Dusen, attacked testimony from federal agents used by the prosecution, saying they were allowed to use hearsay testimony and present the prosecution's case over and over.

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