DETROIT (Reuters) - Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced on Thursday to 28 years in prison following his conviction on two dozen charges including racketeering, bribery and extortion from a conspiracy, which prosecutors said had worsened the city’s financial crisis.
Kilpatrick, 43, once seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, received one of the longest corruption sentences ever handed to a major U.S. politician and one twice that of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year sentence.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds said Kilpatrick headed a conspiracy that spent millions of taxpayer dollars. The sentence was intended to send a message that corruption would not be tolerated, she said.
“That way of business is over,” Edmunds said. “We’re done.”
Kilpatrick, who was mayor from 2002 to 2008, extorted bribes from contractors who wanted to get or keep Detroit city contracts, prosecutors said. They had sought a sentence of at least 28 years in prison for Kilpatrick, who has been held in custody since his conviction in March.
Kilpatrick’s attorneys had asked for a sentence of no more than 15 years.
The judge said Kilpatrick had shown no regret until Thursday, when he told the packed courtroom in a nearly 30-minute address he was “extremely remorseful.” He rested his chin on his palm and closed his eyes after Edmunds pronounced the sentence.
Kilpatrick, wearing beige prison clothes, said it pained him to see Detroit in bankruptcy court, unable to provide basic services to its residents. He hoped his sentencing would help Detroit.
“I‘m ready to go, so the city can move on,” Kilpatrick said.
Kilpatrick, his friend and business partner, Bobby Ferguson, and Kilpatrick’s father, Bernard Kilpatrick, were convicted in March after a six-month trial that included testimony from a former aide and a former city contractor.
Prosecutors accused Kilpatrick of steering $127 million in contracts to Ferguson, at least $73 million of which came from extortion and bid-rigging. Ferguson’s sentencing, previously set for Thursday afternoon, was rescheduled for Friday.
Prosecutors also presented an array of text messages, bank checks, federal wiretaps and surveillance video at the trial.
The verdicts were seen as capping the biggest public corruption probe in Detroit in decades and a major victory for prosecutors. At least 18 city officials and 16 other individuals who did business with the city were convicted of corruption offenses from Kilpatrick’s tenure as mayor.
In their pre-sentence report, prosecutors said federal courts had handed out substantial sentences in several public corruption cases in recent years. Kilpatrick’s term matches that of recent public corruption cases.
In Ohio, former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora was sentenced to 28 years on his 2011 conviction for racketeering and bribery related crimes, prosecutors noted. Former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo, who pleaded guilty and testified against Dimora, was sentenced to nearly 22 years in prison.
A Pennsylvania judge, Mark Ciavarella, was convicted at trial and sentenced to 28 years for accepting cash for supporting the construction and operation of juvenile detention centers, prosecutors said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow told Edmunds the Kilpatrick case was “one of the most significant cases of public corruption” in U.S. history.
In the pre-sentence report, prosecutors said Detroit needed resolute leadership but that, “Instead it got a mayor looking to cash in on his office through graft, extortion and self-dealing.”
Kilpatrick was not the main culprit in Detroit filing for bankruptcy, “but his corrupt administration exacerbated the crisis,” prosecutors said.
Kilpatrick’s attorneys argued that prosecutors overestimated the cost to the city and a government reference to Detroit’s bankruptcy filing in its pre-sentence report oversimplified more than five decades of complex problems.
Detroit, which is under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, filed for bankruptcy protection in July. The city has lost more than half of its population since the 1950s, leaving it with a shrinking tax base and huge debts.
Kilpatrick has asked that he serve his sentence at a federal prison in Texas so he can be close to family who moved to the state after his resignation as mayor. Kilpatrick’s family members did not attend Thursday’s sentencing.
Kilpatrick was a Michigan state representative when he was elected mayor. He resigned as mayor in 2008 and pleaded guilty to lying under oath to hide an extramarital affair. He was sentenced to a jail term and then later served 14 months in prison for a probation violation when a judge found he had concealed assets to avoid paying restitution to Detroit.
Editing by David Bailey, Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Gevirtz