DETROIT (Reuters) - A friend and former business associate of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick must serve 21 years in prison for corruption, a federal judge said Friday, a day after she handed Kilpatrick one of the longest prison terms ever given a U.S. politician.
Bobby Ferguson, 44, would stop at nothing to further his business interests, said U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds in sentencing him on nine counts including extortion and bribery. Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
“The atmosphere of corruption forced many good people away from the city,” said Edmunds. “The impact on the morale of the city of Detroit cannot be overstated.”
Ferguson’s lawyers had argued for a sentence of no more than 10 years, saying the government sought to lay the blame for all of Detroit’s ills on Ferguson and Kilpatrick.
Detroit, which filed for bankruptcy in July, has lost more than half of its population since the 1950s, leaving it with a shrinking tax base and huge debt.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta had argued for Ferguson’s sentence to be equal to Kilpatrick‘s, on the grounds that Ferguson was the “muscle and money man” who bullied business people, threatening financial harm and cancellation of their city contracts if his demands were not met.
Kilpatrick, 43, was a rising star in the Democratic Party after his election as mayor in 2001. He held the office of mayor from 2002 to 2008 before his spectacular fall from grace.
Ferguson and Kilpatrick were convicted in March after a six-month trial. Prosecutors have said Kilpatrick and Ferguson’s long-running enterprise worsened the city’s financial crisis, though it was not the cause of Detroit’s bankruptcy filing.
Ferguson, who has been in custody since his conviction, said the issue was larger than him and Kilpatrick.
“I try to understand the America I live in,” Ferguson said, occasionally reading from the Bible. “In America, it seems like genocide on black people.”
Prosecutors accused Kilpatrick of steering $127 million in city contracts to Ferguson, at least $73 million of which came from extortion and bid-rigging. Prosecutors are seeking $9.6 million in restitution and forfeitures from the men based on the estimated minimum profit they say Ferguson realized.
Their convictions capped the biggest public corruption probe in Detroit in decades. 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.
Kilpatrick’s father, Bernard Kilpatrick, also was convicted of filing a false tax return. His sentencing is scheduled for October 17.
Reporting by Steve Neavling; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Gunna Dickson