Ex-Detroit Mayor To Be Sentenced On Corruption Charges

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Kwame Kilpatrick faces sentencing on 24 corruption convictions, including racketeering. Federal prosecutors say Kilpatrick so abused the public trust that he helped push Detroit into bankruptcy and deserves a sentence of 28 years to life in prison.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The city of Detroit is bankrupt. It has also faced years of political scandal and ineptitude. Despite all this, people in the proud city are trying to find reasons to be optimistic about the future, but today they'll get a fresh reminder of the past. The man who was once the city's brightest hope will find out how long he will be behind bars. Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick will be sentenced on two-dozen federal convictions. From member station WDET in Detroit, Quinn Klinefelter reports.

QUINN KLINEFELTER, BYLINE: In 2001, two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, voters in Detroit made Kwame Kilpatrick the youngest man ever elected mayor of the city. Kilpatrick was an imposing figure. He wore flashy suits, an ear ring, and had a defiant manner that endeared him to many voters here.

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KWAME KILPATRICK: And oftentimes when you're 32 years old - and I was asked not to say this but I am - when you're 32 with an ear ring in your ear some people believe anything is possible.

KLINEFELTER: By 2008, Kilpatrick had resigned in disgrace from office and stories of massive corruption began to emerge. Dogged by allegations of a wild lifestyle, the attorney-turned-mayor perjured himself about an affair with his chief of staff and served 14 months in jail. Then earlier this year, he was convicted on federal charges of racketeering - taking bribes and kickback payments in exchange for steering city work to a friend.

Recent reports allege Kilpatrick even received kickbacks from a pension deal that eventually helped propel Detroit into the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation's history. In front of the City Hall where Kilpatrick reached the zenith of his public life, Jacqueline Mathis expresses little sympathy for a man who could be staring at decades in prison.

JACQUELINE MATHIS: I think that's excessive but it's something he needs to think about. He hasn't learned the law. When you become a lawyer you respect the law. He abused it.

KLINEFELTER: Nearby, Brenda Brown remembers Kilpatrick mainly as a charismatic young black man proud of representing a majority African-American city, even when she claims it irritated others.

BRENDA BROWN: It's unfortunate that he made some missteps, stole a little money. But they're being especially hard on him.

KLINEFELTER: Kilpatrick often complained he was the victim of what he called a white racist media bent on placing him in the worst possible light. Yet, even his defense counsel says the former mayor's offenses deserve a sentence of 15 years behind bars. But no more than that. Attorney Harold Gurewitz says when prosecutors tie Kilpatrick to Detroit's bankruptcy filing, it's a cheap shot. He contends they ignore the good his client did while in office - like rebuilding parks and recreation areas.

HAROLD GUREWITZ: I have concern that there will be appropriate weight given to every aspect of his life. I think that the picture has been skewed.

KLINEFELTER: Some legal experts agree that the government may be over-reaching by requesting a 28-years-to-life sentence for the former mayor.

PETER HENNING: Is this the type of crime that deserves a sentence that would be the equivalent, say, of a homicide sentence?

KLINEFELTER: Former federal prosecutor and Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning says in recent years judges have tended to hand down increasingly tough sentences to white collar criminals. But he says the Kilpatrick case offers the court an opportunity to show it takes an especially dim view of abusing taxpayers in an already embattled and impoverished city.

HENNING: Sending a message out that if you cross the line you could suffer severe consequences; this is something where the judge can take a stand.

KLINEFELTER: For those gathering in the courtroom today to watch the end of this highly-publicized saga, Kwame Kilpatrick's sentencing will write a final chapter in a salacious and sad story that Detroit is eager to put behind it. For NPR News I'm Quinn Klinefelter in Detroit.

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GREENE: This is NPR News.

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