Feds fight to keep Kilpatrick pal Bobby Ferguson in prison

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
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Detroit — Federal prosecutors Monday fought the release of imprisoned contractor Bobby Ferguson, calling him a "tyrant" and saying he should spend the next 10 years behind bars for teaming with former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to extort businessmen and corrupt city government.

Prosecutors filed a 33-page response to a request for compassionate release by Ferguson, who last month argued President Donald Trump created a sentencing disparity in January by commuting Kilpatrick's 28-year prison sentence for racketeering conspiracy. Ferguson's 21-year sentence was not commuted, and he remains incarcerated in a low-security federal prison in eastern Ohio.

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Bobby Ferguson  walks towards the Federal Courthouse in Detroit on September 21, 2012. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)

Ferguson's request threatens to shorten one of the longest sentences for public corruption in U.S. history and alter punishment for participating in a racketeering conspiracy that helped push Detroit to the brink of bankruptcy. He was convicted of nine charges, including racketeering conspiracy, bribery and extortion in March 2013 after a six-month trial featuring testimony about how he extorted tens of millions of dollars in city contractsand received at least $73 million.

"The extortion scheme operated like a bulldozer through the streets of Detroit, and Ferguson drove the demolition with his powerful intimidation and threats," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Resnick Cohen wrote. "Our victimized community, which was in the process of healing following the convictions of Kilpatrick and Ferguson, was wounded when Kilpatrick was released from prison.

"This Court should not pour salt on those wounds," she added, "by releasing Kilpatrick’s tyrant."

Ferguson lawyer Michael Rataj declined comment.

Prosecutors faced a deadline Wednesday to respond to arguments from Ferguson's lawyers that he deserved compassionate release now that Kilpatrick is free. 

Ferguson, 52, was the "muscle and the money" behind Kilpatrick's long-running scheme to turn City Hall into cash, U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds said before sentencing him to prison in October 2013. She also ordered Ferguson to pay almost $6.3 million restitution to the city.

Left to right, Bernard Kilpatrick, Bobby Ferguson and Kwame Kilpatrick leave the Federal courthouse in Detroit, MI August 8, 2012. (Charles V. Tines/The Detroit News)

In his remarks before his sentencing, Ferguson never apologized but talked about his faith and his disappointment — in a system that is putting so many young African-American men in prison.

The closest he came to outright contrition: "I've lived a good life, maybe not to the fullest or not to someone's expectations," he said.

And despite an acknowledgment by Edmunds that Ferguson's company did actually do much of the tens of millions of dollars in work it got over the years, the judge said it doesn't dismiss the heavy-handed tactics he employed with the former mayor's help.

She detailed his crimes — taking state grant money to renovate his office, trying to get others to lie to a grand jury, threatening other contractors over lucrative city work — as she defended her stiff sentence for a "ruthless" man who schemed with Kilpatrick to get money. Together, their behavior "completely undermined trust in government," the judge said. 

Ferguson’s full sentence does not end until March 2034 but with credit for good conduct, his projected release date is January 2031.

Prosecutors criticized Trump's decision to commute Kilpatrick's sentence, saying it was approved by people "who did not listen to six months of trial testimony or live in the city that suffered from the monumental damage he caused,” the prosecutor wrote. “Without question, he deserved the sentence imposed by this court and he did not serve sufficient time in prison."

Ferguson also cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a basis for compassionate release.

“Because neither his medical conditions nor Kilpatrick’s unwarranted early release from prison justify a reduction in the sentence imposed by this court, his motion should be denied,” the prosecutor wrote.

Ferguson’s request comes as prison officials and judges have released more than 24,000 inmates on home confinement to stem the spread of COVID-19 within the federal prison system.

Prosecutors, however, noted there were only two active COVID-19 cases at Ferguson’s prison in Lisbon, Ohio. The prison was one of the hardest-hit earlier in the pandemic, with nine inmates dying and more than 920 prisoners and staff having recovered from the virus.

Compassionate release is not warranted, given Ferguson’s crimes and the length of time left on his sentence, the prosecutor wrote. Ferguson held a “near monopoly” on city contracts during Kilpatrick’s tenure, costing the city money and hurting other minority-owned companies, according to the government.

“Ferguson’s text messages with Kilpatrick revealed that far from promoting other African-American businesses, he actively undermined them and then laughed at their attempts at getting redress from the city administration,” the prosecutor wrote.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews

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