Ex-Detroit mayor facing federal prison on corruption convictions

(Reuters) – Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, once seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, is set to be sentenced Thursday on federal public corruption and bribery convictions prosecutors have said justify a prison term of at least 28 years.

Kilpatrick, 43, was convicted in March on two dozen federal charges including racketeering conspiracy, bribery, extortion, mail and wire fraud, and tax counts. He was deemed a flight risk and has been held in custody since then.

Prosecutors accused Kilpatrick of extorting bribes from contractors who wanted to get or keep city contracts and turning the mayor’s office into “Kilpatrick Incorporated,” robbing the cash-strapped city of desperately needed tax dollars.

Kilpatrick, who served as mayor from 2002 until his resignation in 2008, was not the main culprit in Detroit filing for bankruptcy, “but his corrupt administration exacerbated the crisis,” prosecutors said in a presentencing report.

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.

“The city desperately needed resolute leadership. Instead it got a mayor looking to cash in on his office through graft, extortion and self-dealing,” prosecutors said in their report.

Prosecutors argued that Kilpatrick’s “widespread and corrosive breach of trust” in office was even more egregious than that of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year sentence for bribery and extortion.

Kilpatrick’s bank records alone showed more than $840,000 in unexplained expenditures above and beyond his mayoral salary, none of it disclosed on income tax returns, prosecutors said.

Kilpatrick’s attorney, Harold Gurewitz, argued in his own recommendation to the court that the former mayor should serve no more than 15 year in prison because he is “infamous, destitute, and disgraced.”

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds is scheduled to sentence Kilpatrick at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT).

Edmunds is also set to sentence Kilpatrick’s friend and business partner Bobby Ferguson on Thursday. He was convicted on nine counts including racketeering, bribery and extortion.

Prosecutors are seeking a sentence for Ferguson at least equal to Kilpatrick’s, arguing that Kilpatrick steered $127 million in contracts to Ferguson, at least $73 million of which came from extortion and bid-rigging.

Kilpatrick’s father, Bernard Kilpatrick, was found guilty on one count, signing a false tax return. He is scheduled to be sentenced on October 17.

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.

Prosecutors presented testimony by a top former mayoral aide, a mayoral fundraiser and a former city contractor and an array of text messages, bank checks, federal wiretaps and surveillance video.

Kilpatrick had 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 that he had concealed assets to avoid paying restitution to Detroit.

(Editing by David Bailey and Lisa Shumaker)

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