State rep hand-delivers letter to Trump seeking clemency for Kilpatrick

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Michigan state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo hand-delivered a letter to President Donald Trump from Detroit leaders seeking clemency for former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on Thursday. 

During a White House reception Thursday, state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo gives President Donald Trump a letter asking him to grant clemency to former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Gay-Dagnogo, a Detroit Democrat, was attending a reception at the White House celebrating African American History Month when she gave the president the letter, which was signed by several Detroit caucus members, elected officials and ecumenical leaders.

"The president was receptive," she told The Detroit News afterward. "He listened intently, said thank you and he would look into it." 

Kilpatrick is serving a 28-year prison sentence after his conviction on public corruption charges in 2013.

"No one is arguing the former mayor's guilt or innocence," Gay-Dagnogo said in an email to supporters earlier Thursday. 

"What we're seeking (to have) is a conversation about ... the disproportionate sentencing that men of color experience at every level of the system, and I am appreciative of the invitation and looking forward to having an opportunity with the president or members of his administration to discuss favorably reviewing the former mayor's existing petition already before the president."

Kilpatrick, now 49, has filed a petition for commutation — a reduction of his sentence. 

He doesn't appear to meet the U.S. Justice Department's standards for considering clemency but Trump, as president, isn't bound by the department's guidelines under the Constitution.

Gay-Dagnogo's request comes after Trump granted clemency this month to several white-collar convicts, including the former Illinois governor accused of attempting to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat after he was elected president.

Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said in a Thursday statement 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," said Schneider, who was appointed by Trump.

"So far, Mr. Kilpatrick has shown absolutely no remorse for his crimes. He denies any responsibility for the 24 federal felony offenses of which he was convicted, and he has served only one quarter of his sentence. 

"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.”

Kilpatrick was convicted 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. 

During a five-month 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.

The case was prosecuted by the office of Detroit U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade, an appointee of Obama. 

The Rev. W.J. Rideout III, pastor of All God’s People Church in Detroit, said he signed the letter to Trump, hoping the president will grant Kilpatrick an early release. He said he has met and prayed with Kilpatrick's family.

The matter is one of racial justice and equality, Rideout said, adding that such a move by Trump would "absolutely" result in more votes in the black community for the president's reelection this fall. 

"It can’t just be crucify the black man. It has to be some sort of mercy or grace  given. It’s kind of like they were using him as the poster guy to nail to the cross, and I think that’s unfair and overkill to give him 28 years for $500 or stuff that hasn’t been proven," he said. 

"There should be some kind of leniency here. I’m not advocating crime, but some kind of workable chance to give him an opportunity. Give him a chance to prove himself. And I think he’s been locked up long enough for the crimes he’s been charged with."

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, said Kilpatrick's sentence was excessive and that he deserves clemency considering the others Trump has granted it to. 

"The sentence was too long and when I look at comparable cases of corruption — things that happen around the country — I’ve not known anyone else to get the amount of time that he has," Lawrence said.

"It shouldn’t be that long, and he has served, what, eight years now?"

Kwame Kilpatrick

Gay-Dagnogo said in her email message that "those who issued Mr. Kilpatrick's sentence sought to make an example out of a powerful but flawed black man."

"This discussion is about changing that example to one of second chances and rehabilitation — the same opportunities he has given to a number of other recently incarcerated individuals."

Her letter is signed by state Sen. Marshall Bullock, chair of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus; and state Reps. Tenisha Yancey, Wendall Byrd, LaTanya Garrett, Karen Whitsett and Jewell Jones, plus a list of other supporters. 

"He is not a danger to society, and there is absolutely no chance of him re-offending," the letter says of Kilpatrick. 

"In fact, we are confident his passion and commitment can best be utilized working in the community. He has been punished and regrettably his children and family have suffered greatly as well. For these reasons, we respectfully ask that you favorably grant clemency."

For six years, Kilpatrick, a Democrat, has sought unsuccessfully to overturn the conviction that is scheduled to keep him behind bars until August 2037. 

Compuware co-founder Pete Karmanos, a Republican donor, has also said he is lobbying the Trump administration to pardon Kilpatrick. 

"As a human rights and civil rights leader, I’m asking this sitting president to reach down deep in his heart and please allow Kwame Kilpatrick to please come home," Rideout said. 

"I believe he will do the right thing."