Bobby Ferguson, convicted Kilpatrick associate, seeks early release

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A former Kwame Kilpatrick associate and contractor is requesting an early release from federal prison, just like his friend, the former Detroit mayor, amid COVID-19.

According to a filing Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit, Bobby Ferguson's Jan. 29, 2031, release date is unfair, his lawyers wrote. Ferguson is serving a 21-year sentence in Ohio after a federal investigation into Detroit City Hall corruption.

Bobby Ferguson

"The fact that Mr. Kilpatrick is now a free man (with 16 years remaining on his sentence) and Mr. Ferguson must still serve 10 more years, undoubtedly constitutes extraordinary and compelling reasons to grant Mr. Ferguson compassionate release, in light of the already-disparate nature of his sentence as compared with other defendants convicted of similar crimes," they wrote in the filing.

"To be sure, equal treatment under law, fundamental fairness and the interests of justice cry out for a commutation of Mr. Ferguson’s sentence pursuant to the compassionate release statute."

Ferguson's lawyers also claim he "suffers from significant medical conditions that increase his risk while being incarcerated during the COVID-19 pandemic."

In addition, Ferguson has been a model prisoner and his release would not pose a danger to the community, they say.

In January, outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump commuted Kilpatrick's 28-year sentence, the longest issued in a federal corruption case in U.S. history, 

Kilpatrick's sentence was commuted almost eight years after a jury convicted him of orchestrating a racketeering and bribery scheme while in public office.

He and his friend and co-defendant Ferguson were convicted following a six-month trial and allegations that they turned City Hall into a "money-making machine," squeezing millions of dollars out of government contracts and spending the money on luxury lifestyles.

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

Kilpatrick had 16 years remaining on his sentence after receiving credit for good behavior in prison. His projected release date was January 2037.

"To allow Mr. Ferguson to remain in prison for 10 more years while Mr. Kilpatrick is now tasting the fruits of freedom turns sentencing equities and justice on its head," his lawyers wrote Tuesday.

Ferguson "received the longest sentence that any non-public official received in a public corruption case" and also was "11.45 times greater than the average bribery/corruption sentence and 7.88 times greater than the average extortion/racketeering sentence," the court filing said.

"There is no question that Mr. Ferguson’s sentence is incredibly disparate from sentences for similar crimes."

The former mayor still has to pay more than $1.7 million in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

The water and sewerage department was considered Kilpatrick's victim because he was convicted of steering city contracts to Ferguson.

Ferguson, a father of five, who took educational courses behind bars and mentored other inmates, is remorseful and "understands that his crimes were serious and that he had to pay his debt to society," his lawyers wrote. "However, a sentence that is excessive in light of the seriousness of the offense promotes disrespect for the law and provides unjust punishment ..."

Ferguson previously requested a shorter sentence through the federal correctional facility where he is housed but was denied, his attorneys said.

Meanwhile, he "has several significant health conditions that heighten his risk if exposed to COVID-19," including chronic lung disease, and the Ohio facility he's housed in reported 31 active virus cases there as of last week, according to the filing.