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No federal confirmation of Kilpatrick release despite family expecting one

Detroit — Federal officials have not confirmed Kwame Kilpatrick will be released from prison 17 years early after members of the former Detroit mayor's family said they expect a "compassionate release" because he is "suffering severe health challenges." 

Kilpatrick's sister, Ayanna, released a statement Sunday night via Twitter on behalf of her family that read: "Due to suffering severe health challenges we expect Kwame Kilpatrick to receive a grant for COVID-19 compassionate release from the FBOP this week. We are extremely grateful to God and we thank each and every one who has kept him and his family lifted in prayer."

Ayanna Kilpatrick provided no proof of imminent release from the Federal Bureau of Prisons or further details about her brother's health. The former Detroit mayor's nephew, Ade Kilpatrick, also tweeted Sunday the same language as Ayanna Kilpatrick.

Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, referred The Detroit News to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which didn't respond to requests for comment on Sunday and Monday. 

There also was no confirmation Monday morning from federal prosecutors, Kilpatrick's criminal defense lawyer or federal court officials where Kilpatrick stood trial in a landmark corruption trial.

"We haven’t heard anything about a potential release for Kwame Kilpatrick," federal court spokesman David Ashenfelter told The News on Monday.

Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit, declined to comment.

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on Oct. 10, 2012.

But state Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit, told The News on Sunday night that Kilpatrick would be released Monday but wouldn’t say how she knew.

“I can tell you he’s absolutely getting out,” Whitsett said.

The announcement from the Detroit Democrat comes six months after Whitsett last declared Kilpatrick would be freed from a 28-year federal prison sentence for turning Detroit City Hall into a racketeering enterprise. Prison officials, however, refused to release him but supporters have continued to try and secure Kilpatrick's freedom, arguing his punishment was too severe.

Kilpatrick, 50, 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.

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

Reports at the time indicated Kilpatrick would be released and move in with his mother near Atlanta, Georgia. She bought a new $336,848 home 39 miles south of Atlanta in June 2019.

Kilpatrick has been incarcerated at a low-security prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, where his release date as of Monday was still listed as Jan. 18, 2037.

“I’m a little bit suspicious,” said Detroit attorney Harold Gurewitz, one of Kilpatrick’s trial and appellate lawyers.

Though federal inmates are being released on home confinement to stem the spread of COVID-19, Kilpatrick is not an ideal candidate.

“The thing that makes the whole thing difficult for Kwame is the length of time he has left to go on his sentence,” Gurewitz said.

In May, federal authorities refused a bid to free the former Detroit mayor on home confinement amid the COVID-19 outbreak, contrary to claims from supporters that his release was imminent. 

The Federal Bureau of Prisons previously said it reviewed Kilpatrick's case on May 26 and declined to release him.

The review appeared to be part of a broader effort this year to release prisoners in hopes of stemming the spread of a virus that killed dozens of federal inmates nationwide.

During the pandemic, Barr ordered the release of some federal prisoners to home confinement, including at the Oakdale Federal Correctional Complex in Louisiana where Kilpatrick is held. 

The facility housing Kilpatrick — Oakdale I — has had seven deaths from the virus.

Kilpatrick has not filed a motion with the court requesting compassionate release — the provision for very sick or elderly inmates — so it's likely his family is referring to his being placed on home confinement under the federal CARES Act, said Mary Price, general counsel for the advocacy group FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums). 

Overall, the bureau says it has released 7,778 inmates to serve their prison terms on home confinement due to concerns about COVID-19.

The Bureau of Prisons previously said it's "prioritizing for consideration" vulnerable inmates that have either served half or more of their sentences or have 18 months or less remaining in their sentences and have served 25% or more of their sentences.

"There are high profile people who have been released under CARES Act home confinement well before they served 50% of their time, and maybe somebody’s putting some pressure," Price said. 

"Nothing is set in stone but one of the criteria is that you served at least 50% of your time. But again, that is really a discretionary thing." 

She noted Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Trump, was released in May to serve his prison sentence on home confinement, with the Bureau of Prisons citing Manafort's age and vulnerability due to underlying health issues.

Manafort, 71, had served 23 months of his seven-year prison term for his conviction on bank and tax fraud and other charges. 

Kilpatrick has 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."

Kilpatrick previously filed a petition for commutation with the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, seeking a reduction of his sentence. The office’s website says that petition remains pending, as of Monday.

However, experts have said Kilpatrick is an unlikely candidate under the grounds the department has defined for commutation, which include critical illness, old age, disparity or “undue severity” of sentence and meritorious service rendered to the government. Also, individuals granted commutations typically have served at least half their sentences, and Kilpatrick has only served seven of his 28 years.

Kilpatrick is ineligible for a pardon under the DOJ guidelines because he’s still serving a prison sentence. He’s also maintained his innocence, and it’s rare that federal officials grant clemency to convicts who haven’t accepted responsibility for their crimes, according to experts.

However, Trump is not bound by the DOJ’s guidelines and has broad constitutional authority to exercise his clemency power. 

Trump granted clemency in February to several white-collar convicts, including Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor accused of attempting to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat after he was elected president. Blagojevich had appeared on "The Celebrity Apprentice" with Trump.