Mar 11, 2013

Ex-Detroit Mayor Convicted of sweeping corruption charges

Ex-Detroit Mayor Convicted of sweeping corruption charges, Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, once seen as a rising star in Democratic Party politics, was convicted on Monday on two dozen federal charges of corruption and bribery while in office.

U.S. prosecutors accused Kilpatrick, 42, his father and a city contractor of widespread corruption, extorting bribes from contractors who wanted to be awarded or keep city contracts, turning the mayor's office into "Kilpatrick Incorporated" during his seven year tenure.

The 12 jurors, who deliberated for 14 days from mid-February in a U.S. District Court trial that started last September, returned a sweeping verdict against Kilpatrick following the biggest public corruption probe in Detroit in decades.

For many people in Detroit, the Kilpatricks contributed to the decline of the home of the U.S. automotive industry, which is expected soon to be under the control of a Michigan state-appointed financial emergency manager.

Prosecutors accused Kilpatrick of steering more than $83 million worth of municipal contracts to his friend Bobby Ferguson, a city contractor, who shared some of the money with the former mayor.

Jurors found Kilpatrick guilty of racketeering, extortion, bribery, mail and wire fraud, and tax charges. They found Ferguson guilty of racketeering, extortion and bribery. The most serious charges call for prison sentences of up to 20 years.

The former mayor's father, Bernard Kilpatrick, was convicted on a single count of signing a false tax return.

The three men have been free on bail during the trial. U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds scheduled a bail hearing for later Monday and did not yet set sentencing dates.

Kwame Kilpatrick, who wore a dark suit and patterned tie in court, was quiet as the verdicts were read, resting his chin on folded hands. At times, Kilpatrick shook his head.

The judge, before reading the decisions, said the jurors reached the verdicts late on Friday, but "wanted to go home and sleep on it" until Monday. They were unanimous on 40 of the 45 charges against the three defendants.

Lawyers for the three men had argued that the government's case was built on weak evidence and witnesses who lied to gain favor with prosecutors in their own public corruption cases. None of the defendants testified.

Kilpatrick, was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party when he was elected Detroit mayor at age 31 in 2001, but his tenure was marked by accusations of cronyism, nepotism and lavish spending. He resigned from office in 2008.

Witnesses in the trial included a top former mayoral aide, a mayoral fundraiser and a former city contractor. Evidence included text messages, bank checks, federal wiretaps and surveillance video.

Former Detroit Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel, who teaches Detroit political history at Wayne State, has said she believes the culture under the Kilpatrick administration exacerbated the city's already deeply compromised financial infrastructure.

After the verdicts were handed down on Monday, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said in a statement he was pleased that the trial was over and "we can finally put this negative chapter in Detroit's history behind us.

"It is time for all of us to move forward with a renewed commitment to transparency and high ethical standards in our City government," Bing said.

The verdict is seen as a major victory for federal authorities. Though they have racked up more than two dozen convictions since 2008 in an effort to purge Detroit's cash-strapped city government of graft and corruption, a previous trial for Ferguson resulted in a mistrial after a lone juror held out and deadlocked the jury.

Detroit itself is so destitute that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is expected to appoint an emergency financial manager to take control of municipal finances, which could lead to the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.