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Ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick headed toward early release, lawmaker says

Detroit — Former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick will be released from prison next month after serving seven years of a 28-year sentence, amid efforts to reduce COVID-19 spread in the federal inmate population, according to a state lawmaker and foundation officials who advocated for the move.

State Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit, and officials with the Ebony Foundation, a national nonprofit pushing for his release for months, said Friday that Kilpatrick has been given the early release. A foundation official said he will be placed in his mother's custody on June 10 in Georgia.

No federal prison or White House officials would confirm the release Friday. 

Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider also noted in a statement that “my office has not been told of any plans to release Kilpatrick."

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick

But Whitsett told The Detroit News that she confirmed Friday with White House officials that Kilpatrick is one of 3,000 inmates who will be released under an initiative to lessen prison loads during the coronavirus pandemic.

Whitsett — who has gained national attention due to her praise of President Donald Trump’s push for hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19 — said she spoke with Trump on Thursday about Kilpatrick's release while the president was in Michigan and confirmed with the White House Friday. 

“I think it’s only right,” Whitsett said. “He served his time, and I think the time that he was given was in excess.”

During the pandemic, U.S. Attorney General William Barr ordered the release of some federal prisoners to home confinement, including at the Oakdale Federal Correctional Complex in Louisiana where Kilpatrick is currently held. The Oakdale prison is a low-security facility that has had at least eight prisoners die of coronavirus, according to the Bureau of Prisons. 

The Ebony Foundation sent out a press release Friday morning with the news. 

"This is happening," said the Rev. Keyon S. Payton, national director for community outreach and engagement at foundation in an interview Friday. "After 25 days of quarantine, he will be released into the custody of his mother (former U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick) in Atlanta, Georgia."

Ja’Ron Smith, a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of American Innovation, tweeted about the Kilpatrick news Friday afternoon: "Thankful for the leadership of @POTUS and AG Barr in keeping the public safe while protecting inmates during COVID-19. Several thousand nonviolent inmates have been released to home confinement."

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit on Friday referred initial comment to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which only confirmed that Kilpatrick is currently at Oakdale. The federal prison system website shows his release date is Jan. 18, 2037.

"For privacy, safety and security reasons, we do not discuss information about an individual inmate's conditions of confinement or release plans," said Scott Taylor, spokesman for the federal prison system, in an email inquiring about Kilpatrick's status.

While the foundation says Kilpatrick is still officially awaiting release, his federal court file reads "defendant status: released" as of Friday afternoon.

The feds recently allowed Gary Sayers, owner of the Madison Heights "green ooze" site, to spend the rest of his term, which was to last until November, in home confinement. His federal court file has the same notation: "defendant status: released."

Lillian Diallo, vice president of the Wayne County Criminal Defense Bar, said "that's all you can rely upon, is the court file. And the court file says released."

Asked Friday morning if he could confirm the news, Harold Gurewitz, a lawyer who has represented Kilpatrick, texted that “I can not.”

Kilpatrick, 49, went to prison after his conviction in 2013 on two dozen counts of using his positions as mayor and state representative to carry out a decade-long criminal racket involving extortion, bribery, conspiracy and fraud.

"He's not perfect. He's made some mistakes," Payton said. "But we felt the time he spent in prison was sufficient for the crimes he may have committed."

Kilpatrick sought clemency from Trump but didn't appear to meet the Justice Department's standards for considering a reduction of his prison sentence. State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, D-Detroit, hand-delivered a letter to Trump from Detroit leaders, including Whitsett, seeking clemency for Kilpatrick in February. 

Schneider, the U.S. attorney, at that time said that Kilpatrick received a "fair and just sentence that reflected the seriousness of his crimes and the devastating impact they had on our community." 

"As the elected mayor, he ran a criminal enterprise that corrupted wide swaths of city government in the early 2000s — at a time when city residents desperately needed honest and effective city services," Schneider, who was appointed by Trump, said in a statement at the time. 

"My office is willing to provide any assistance to the pardon attorney to explain what really happened in Detroit under Mr. Kilpatrick’s watch, and why his conduct justified the sentence he received.”

In March, the foundation along with the National Baptist Convention of America, a coalition of more than 30 Black Megachurches and other national groups, called for Kilpatrick's early release, according to Friday's press release. 

The foundation is the national nonprofit arm of Ebony Capital Partners, LLC, focusing on projects to combat mass incarceration and reunite families, including raise bail funds.

Ebony magazine, Payton said, will run an exclusive interview with Kilpatrick upon his release.

The former mayor had exhaustively worked the appeals process for release but lost a bid to get out of federal prison in November when an appeals court rejected claims a biased judge oversaw his landmark racketeering case.

The order filed in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, came seven months after Kilpatrick claimed U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds had a conflict of interest and should have recused herself.

Edmunds presided over the six-month trial and sentenced Kilpatrick to the 28 years in prison for orchestrating a criminal enterprise out of City Hall.

During the trial, prosecutors said Kilpatrick headed a criminal enterprise out of the Detroit mayoral office and steered $84 million in city contracts to friend Bobby Ferguson, who shared the proceeds with Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick's father, Bernard Kilpatrick, was also sentenced to federal prison for 15 months and was released in 2014 to a halfway house and subsequently to home confinement to serve out the remainder of his sentence. He was convicted of committing a tax crime that Edmunds said consisted of taking money and doing no work for contractors who were strong-armed by his son.

Mayor Mike Duggan, when asked about the news at his COVID-19 press conference Friday, said his connection to Kilpatrick is "very personal," having known him since Kilpatrick was just in high school.

"(He’s) one of the most extraordinary talented people I’ve ever met. I think he has a lot to contribute and if, in fact, reports are true, I’ll be doing everything I can to get him a fresh start," Duggan said.

And the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP, said he doesn't condone Kilpatrick's past wrongdoing, but he felt a 28-year sentence was too stiff.

"I believe in second and third chances," Anthony said. "I'm not angry. I'm not upset. He has paid a price. His family is not together, as it was going inside. He's lost a great deal of time."

The Rev. Steve Bland Jr., pastor of Liberty Temple Baptist Church on Detroit's west side, and president of the council of Baptist pastors of Detroit, called Kilpatrick's pending release "the right move at the right time."

"I believe in redemption," said Bland, whose name is the second to appear on the February letter seeking clemency. "I believe in grace. All of us need it."

He noted other politicos who had been granted compassionate released early from their prison obligations: former Trump associates Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, along with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, who appeared as a contestant years ago on Trump's TV show, "The Apprentice."

As for Kilpatrick's future, people said it was too early to know what he might do, or where he might locate ultimately.

"Kwame has the ability to do a number of things," Anthony said. "He can teach, he can preach, he can mentor. He still has a good mind in terms of management."