Kwame Kilpatrick guilty: For destitute Detroit, downfall of ex-mayor complete
Kwame Kilpatrick, once seen as a fresh hopeful face for Detroit when he became the financially troubled city's youngest mayor, was found guilty of enriching himself while in office.
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The most serious guilty verdict for Kilpatrick is for the single racketeering charge, a felony that can bring 20 years in prison.Skip to next paragraph
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Most often used to target organized crime, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) law is increasingly used in high-profile public corruption trials, including the federal case against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2011. While Kilpatrick’s defense attorneys argued that their client was innocent because the gifts he received were unsolicited, or that others in his office approved the expenses, under the law, all the government had to prove was that Kilpatrick had knowledge of the bribe.
“Either you need solicitation of the bribe or the giving or receiving of something of value,” says William Kresse, director of the Center for the Study of Fraud and Corruption at Saint Xavier University in Chicago.
“We know what a bribe is: When a politician asks for money in exchange he will grant the favor. But it doesn’t have to have all of those elements, it needs one of them,” Mr. Kresse says. “Part of the rationale for the law is it is so hard to prove all of the elements. All prosecutors needed to show was there was an acceptance of the gift.”
One tool prosecutors used in their case were text messages between Kilpatrick and Mr. Ferguson and others that Assistant US Attorney Mark Chutkow says described “a crime scene frozen in time.” The messages showed Kilpatrick knowingly held contracts to help Ferguson.
The trial documented Kilpatrick’s opulent lifestyle, which was funded primarily by a foundation meant to support voter education and youth programs. Instead the fund was used to expense lavish family vacations, college tuition for relatives, and personal items. Several businessmen testified they were forced to provide Kilpatrick with expensive jewelry, suits, and vacations in order to maintain their multimillion dollar contracts.
Mr. Chutlow said in his closing arguments that Ferguson shared more than $125 million in spoils with Kilpatrick and that the mayor spent $840,000 past what his salary covered during his time as mayor.
“Mr. Kilpatrick lived way beyond the means of a public official,” he told jurors.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing released a statement shortly after the verdict saying he was “pleased that this long trial has ended,” which will allow the city to “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.”
The guilty verdict is not the first in Kilpatrick’s troubled political career. He resigned during his second term as mayor in 2008 to plead guilty to lying in a civil case involving a sex scandal with a top aide. He ended up serving a 14-month prison term in 2008 on two obstruction of justice felonies.
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