Tresa Baldas, Jim Schaefer, Gina Damron and Tammy Stables Battaglia, Detroit Free Press
DETROIT - Seven months after his historic conviction on wide-ranging public corruption charges, Detroit's former mayor was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court to 28 years in prison.
Though Kwame Kilpatrick's defense team had asked for a 15-year sentence, prosecutors requested least 28 years, and District Judge Nancy Edmunds gave it to them.
"The government has asked for a sentence of 28 years," Edmunds said. "I believe that is in fact what his sentence should be."
Kilpatrick ran what the government called a money-making racket out of City Hall that steered millions to himself, his family and his friends while the impoverished city hobbled along. The judge said Kilpatrick took bribes, misused nonprofit funds and "used his power as mayor ... to steer an astounding amount of business to (Bobby) Ferguson."
Kilpatrick, 43, was found guilty March 11 of 24 of 30 counts of corruption, including five counts of extortion, racketeering, bribery and several mail, wire and tax fraud charges. On three counts he was found not guilty, and on the remaining three no verdict was reached.
The overarching issue in this case is that public officials are responsible to the citizenry, Edmunds said.
"One thing is certain," she said. "It was the citizens of Detroit who suffered."
Despite a speech in court Thursday in which the former mayor spoke in a soft voice, asked for a fair sentence and said he accepted responsibility, Edmunds said Kilpatrick largely has shown little remorse.
Kilpatrick's defense team wanted Edmunds to consider Kilpatrick's accomplishments as mayor - responsibilities that Edmunds said he was elected to carry out.
"He chose to waste his talents on personal aggrandizement and enrichment," she said. He lived the high life, hosted lavish parties, accepted cash tributes and loaded the city payroll with friends and family.
She said she will recommend Kilpatrick be sent to a prison in Texas, where his family lives, and told Kilpatrick that he can appeal.
As she issued his sentence, Kilpatrick stared at her, blinking slowly. Edmunds said restitution will be determined later and a hearing would happen within 90 days.
Before issuing the sentence, Edmunds said it was important to her that Kilpatrick was not convicted just on extortion, but also on other counts of fraud. She said text messages and witnesses bolstered allegations that his relationship with friend and co-defendant Ferguson was at the heart of the criminal activity.
The involvement of city officials and others compounds the seriousness of Kilpatrick's crimes, she said. Thirty-four other people, including Kilpatrick's father, have been convicted in connection with the public corruption case.
After the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said the judge sent a powerful message to the people of Detroit: "This type of betrayal will not be tolerated.
"Twenty eight years - a very, very powerful sentence, equal to the highest sentence ever handed out in a public corruption case, but appropriate for the type of staggering corruption we saw in this case," McQuade said. "This case is not so much about punishing people from the past, but about shaping our future. "With a message like this, it is very clear that public officials will be held accountable in the city of Detroit."
Kilpatrick said in court that he respects the justice system and the jury's verdict though he disagrees with it. Kilpatrick admitted he lied about having an affair with his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty. He also said he was sorry to those he let down - including his wife, children and parents - who were not in court.
"I want the city to heal," he said. "I want the city to prosper. I want the city to be great in the end. I want the city to have the same feeling it did in 2006 when the Super Bowl was here. ... Everybody felt like this was their town."
Margaret Raben, one of Kilpatrick's lawyers, had objected earlier Thursday to a $9.6 million calculation that the federal government estimates Kilpatrick's conspiracy cost the city. That's how much the government said Ferguson made in illegal profits stemming from crooked contracts that Kilpatrick helped steer his way.
Raben argued that sources for the figure are unsubstantiated and that Kilpatrick's sentencing guidelines exceed what someone else might get for a violent crime.
After going through each of the contracts that were illegal, Edmunds took $5 million off the total, saying she would calculate the sentence based on a figure of $4.6 million. She had discretion to decide what she considered appropriate punishment, and Kilpatrick could have received as much as life in prison, according to sentencing guidelines.
Before the sentencing, Harold Gurewitz, another Kilpatrick lawyer, said the sentence that the government advocated - 28 years in prison at a minimum - "goes beyond what's necessary."
He said publicity in the case has made Kilpatrick a scapegoat for the past 50 years of the city's sins.
Kilpatrick already has been locked up three times; Gurewitz said he knows the effect and meaning of incarceration.
Gurewitz highlighted other cases where public officials got lesser sentences, including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced to serve 14 years in prison on corruption convictions in 2011.
In Kilpatrick's statement, he said all he ever wanted to be was Detroit's mayor. Before taking office in 2001, he had served in Michigan's House of Representatives. He is the son of former U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich.
But months into his mayoral job, Kilpatrick said he hated it. He said managing a city "is the hardest thing you can imagine." Yet he ran for a second term, resigning only when he was forced to, on Sept. 27, 2008.
"I'm usually a good speaker, but this is not me," Kilpatrick said in court. I've never been here before. I don't want to be here again. ... I'm incredibly remorseful."
Kilpatrick also talked about Ferguson, whom he said had a lucrative business before Kilpatrick became mayor. He said he was proud of his friend but never would put him above the people of Detroit.
Ferguson, Kilpatrick's co-defendant and convicted partner in crime, received more than $127 million in contracts while his friend was mayor, according to the government. Of that, at least $76 million in contracts were illegally obtained through extortion.
Ferguson will be sentenced Friday.
The government is seeking a maximum 28-year prison sentence for him, calling Ferguson the key player in the pair's extortion scheme, which involved elbowing competing contractors out of deals and shaking down others to cut Ferguson in on their contracts.
The defense said Ferguson should get no more than 10 years, arguing that the federal government is unfairly trying to hold both men responsible for all of Detroit's financial woes and punish them for crimes that never were proven at trial.
"He was responsible for a lot of the buildings in and around here downtown even before Mr. Kilpatrick became mayor," said Ferguson's lawyer, Mike Rataj. "He employed people. They contributed to the economy. He took care of people. He fed poor people. And we hope that the judge takes all that into consideration tomorrow."