DETROIT - When it comes to public corruption,former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is the worst of the worst.
That's what federal prosecutors argued Thursday in asking a judge to sentence Kilpatrick to at least 28 years in prison for his multitude of crimes - a request that raised eyebrows within the legal community as some experts said Kilpatrick could get the stiffest punishment for public corruption in U.S. history.
The government says he deserves it, noting Kilpatrick's sentencing guidelines call for up to life in prison."Kilpatrick is more culpable - and his conduct more pervasive - than any other public corruption defendant sentenced in recent memory. His guideline range reflects that. So should his sentence," federal prosecutors wrote in their 57-page sentencing memo.
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In March, Kilpatrick was convicted on 24 of 30 counts of extortion, racketeering and bribery in a trial that lasted five months with testimony from 90 witnesses.
In pushing for a tough sentence, prosecutors argued that Kilpatrick abused the public's trust for years, put his own needs before those of the impoverished city he was supposed to serve, and ran a racket out of his office so that he, his family and his longtime contractor friend, Bobby Ferguson, could get rich.
"And worst of all, he did it in a city where poverty, crime and a lack of basic services made it one of the most vulnerable metropolitan areas in the nation," prosecutors wrote. "The scale of his corruption was astonishing. The impact on the region was devastating."
"Kilpatrick is more culpable - and his conduct more pervasive - than any other public corruption defendant sentenced in recent memory. His guideline range reflects that. So should his sentence."
- Federal prosecutors in sentencing memorandum
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds will sentence Kilpatrick and Ferguson on Oct. 10. Ferguson was convicted on nine of 11 counts against him. The government says that Ferguson, a contractor who scored $127 million worth of city contracts while his friend was mayor, "is deserving of a sentence at or near that of Kilpatrick." It is seeking a maximum 28-year sentence for Ferguson, noting that's at the high end of public corruption sentences handed down across the country. The range, they said, is between 14 and 28 years.
Reid Schar, the federal prosecutor who successfully prosecuted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in a 2011 public corruption trial, said the 28-year sentence request for Kilpatrick is noteworthy, but not surprising.
"They're asking for a significant sentence in a significant case," Schar told the Detroit Free Presson Thursday, noting the courts are growing less tolerant of public corruption and handing out stiffer sentences. "Given the history of public corruption sentences increasing in the last three to five years, this should not come as a surprise."
Blagojevich, for example, got a 14-year prison sentence in 2011 for, among other things, trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat of now President Barack Obama. In comparison, George Ryan, the Illinois governor who preceded Blagojevich, got a 6 and one-half-year prison sentence after getting convicted in 2006 on 18 felony corruption counts.
Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning said it's uncommon to see public corruption sentences of more than 10 years.
"A 28-year minimum would be far beyond the range," Henning said of the requested sentence for Kilpatrick, adding: "It's still rare to get 10 years or more, but then again, it's rare to see this much corruption."
As for what Kilpatrick could get, Henning said: "I could certainly see a sentence of 20 years."
Prosecutors argue a stiff sentence is necessary.
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"A very substantial sentence is necessary not only to sufficiently punish Kilpatrick, but to renew public confidence in the rule of law," they wrote, stressing that Kilpatrick is worse than others convicted of similar crimes.
Kilpatrick's lawyer, Harold Gurewitz, declined to comment on the sentencing recommendation. He would only say that for now, he is focused on getting his client a fair sentence and making sure that the judge considers "the whole picture of who he is as an individual" and "the impact that all of this has obviously had on him."
"A 28-year minimum would be far beyond the range. It's still rare to get 10 years or more, but then again, it's rare to see this much corruption."
- Peter Henning, Wayne State University law professor
"I have faith in the judicial system," said Gurewitz, who will file his own sentencing recommendation in the coming days. "All we can really hope and pray for is that the system works in the way that it's intended to."
In the filing, prosecutors lambasted Kilpatrick for having a criminal record, which includes his conviction in the text message scandal that cost the city of Detroit $8.4 million, drove him from office and landed him in jail three times, twice for probation violations.
Kilpatrick's demise came after he testified in a 2007 police whistle-blower trial, when he misled jurors about the firing of a police officer and lied about having an affair with his top aide, Christine Beatty. His testimony was contradicted by text messages published by the Free Press, triggering criminal charges and his eventual guilty plea to obstruction of justice and his eventual resignation in 2008.
Through it all, the government said, Kilpatrick never felt he did anything wrong.
"Even now, after years of civil and criminal litigation, there is no evidence that Kilpatrick has accepted responsibility for his crimes in office," prosecutors wrote. "Nor is there any sign of remorse or contrition."
Throughout the trial, Kilpatrick's lawyers denied the ex-mayor committed any wrongdoing, arguing he didn't have as much influence over contracts as the government claimed he did, and that he never steered any work to Ferguson.