Kwame Kilpatrick won't be released from prison early, feds reveal

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Federal officials Tuesday refused to free former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on home confinement amid the COVID-19 outbreak, contrary to what supporters last week hailed as an imminent release from an unfair prison sentence. 

A Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman told The Detroit News late Tuesday night that officials reviewed Kilpatrick's case and refused to release him nearly 17 years early on home confinement. The review appeared to be part of a broader effort to release prisoners in hopes of stemming the spread of a virus that has killed 64 federal inmates nationwide.

"On Tuesday, May 26, 2020, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reviewed and denied inmate Kwame Kilpatrick for home confinement," the Bureau of Prisons office of public affairs wrote in an email to The News. Kilpatrick remains incarcerated at the low-security prison in Oakdale, La., where his release date is January 2037. 

The government's refusal contradicted claims from supporters and advocates, including state Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit, who announced Kilpatrick's pending release Friday. Supporters have tried to secure Kilpatrick's release from a 28-year federal prison sentence, arguing the punishment was too severe.

Kwame Kilpatrick

Kilpatrick, 49, was convicted of racketeering conspiracy and sentenced 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. The 28-year sentence tied Ohio county politician Jimmy Dimora for the longest federal prison sentence for a corrupt public official in U.S. history.

The government's decision brought a measure of certainty to the status of one of the nation's most infamous and high-profile inmates after a weekend of rumors about Kilpatrick's imminent release spurred by a press release issued Friday by a prisoners' rights foundation. 

The Ebony Foundation, a national nonprofit pushing for his release for months, sent out a press release Friday touting Kilpatrick's expected release. The announcement was backed by Whitsett, who said she spoke with President Donald Trump on Thursday about Kilpatrick's release while the president was in Michigan and confirmed it herself with the White House Friday. 

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 seven prisoners die of coronavirus, according to the Bureau of Prisons. 

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. 

Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider 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 then. 

"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.”