Former Detroit Mayor Sentenced To Five Years

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On Tuesday the city of Detroit witnessed the dramatic sentencing of former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick received a sentence of up to five years for violating the terms of his probation. Last year, he pled guilty to obstruction of justice after sexually explicit text messages showed he had lied under oath about an affair with a staff member. He was ordered to pay $1 million in restitution, but claimed he couldn't afford it. That claim led to hearings which found that he hid money in bank accounts controlled by his wife. Guest host Tony Cox speaks to Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley, and Craig Fahle of NPR member station WDET.

TONY COX, host:

We now move on to Detroit, which witnessed the dramatic sentencing of disgraced former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Prior to the judge's ruling, the mayor delivered this emotional plea.

Mr. KWAME KILPATRICK (Former Mayor, Detroit): Over and over again in this city, every time I come, I'm the guy in the text messages. And it's put a pause on everything. That's not me anymore. As long as I'm back here, back here, thrown in jail, I never thought in a million years that I'd ever go to jail in my life. I don't think that anybody has a chance to move forward, so I respectfully, humbly ask with everything that's in me to be free, to continue to be on probation.

COX: But it was not enough to convince the judge. Kilpatrick received a sentence of up to five years for violating the terms of his probation. Last year he pled guilty to obstruction of justice after sexually explicit text messages showed he had lied under oath about an affair with a staff member. He was ordered to pay $1 million in restitution. Kilpatrick claimed he could not afford it. That claim led to hearings which found that he hid money in bank accounts controlled by his wife

With me from Detroit now, the Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley, and Craig Fahle of the Craig Fahle Show on NPR member station WDET. Welcome to you both.

Ms. ROCHELLE RILEY (Columnist, Detroit Free Press): Thank you.

CRAIG FAHLE: Thanks, Tony.

COX: Craig, let me begin with you. It's hard to imagine that this came as a surprise given the former mayor's long-running problems, but just let me ask you straight out, was it a surprise the sentence?

FAHLE: I think it was at least the length of the sentence. Of course this is what the prosecution had been pushing for. However, the state guidelines don't usually recommend prison for this type of a situation, this type of a nonviolent crime. There were audible gasps in the court room yesterday when the sentence was handed down. So I think people thought he was going to go to jail, perhaps, but I don't think a lot of people expected prison, at least not in the length that could be over a year and a half.

COX: Rochelle, is the city of Detroit racially polarized over this?

Ms. RILEY: Well, the city of Detroit is predominantly African-American so the split isn't racial, it's old school and new school - whether the old ways of doing things should be given a chance to fade away before you have to start doing things like following the law. And the answer is no, you have to follow the law. There were people who were not surprised that he was going to go to prison.

I think that Kwame Kilpatrick and his family might've been surprised, because they thought that he'd get one more chance. But he's had so many, I think had Judge Groner done anything else, that would've caused a problem.

COX: Craig, one of the things that happened in the first trial of Kwame Brown was they had the text messages, so they had him cold, so to speak. Did they have that kind of evidence with the issue of whether or not he could afford to make restitution.

FAHLE: It wasn't so clear cut, because there were a question about some loans that he had received from some business leaders here in the community, whether or not that was money intended for him or for his wife. And the fact is that he never really came clear on any of this. The phrase that we heard over and over, used by Judge Groner throughout this process was obfuscation. That it really was a parsing of words and a question as to whether or not there are joint marital assets involved.

It was pretty obvious that there was some money coming in, given the lifestyle he was living down in that suburb in Dallas. And so there were a lot of questions as to whether or not he could afford to pay his $3,000 a month restitution. That's all he had to do. Meanwhile, he's got, you know, a home that he's renting in Dallas that cost a whole lot of money. But he couldn't say where his wife worked, where she was getting the money. He didn't have any answers for that. So there was never really a clear picture as to exactly how much money this guy had.

COX: Well, how was he going to be able to pay, Rochelle, the restitution now that he lost the job that he did have paying him over $100,000 a year?

Ms. RILEY: Well, there are political observers who still believe that the former mayor has money sort of hidden away from his civic fund and from his time in office. And this is possibly a prosecutorial way to get at where that money is. When he gets out of jail, he can either write the check and then face questions about he was able to do it. Or he's going to have to get a job really quickly.

COX: Well, Craig, the judge said he is going to give him time served. I think it's a 120 days so far, on the sentence that could go anywhere from a year and a half up to five years. But I'm assuming that an appeal on behalf of Kwame Kilpatrick is expected to be filed.

FAHLE: Yeah, as a matter of fact, the lawyers are going to announce something on that today on whether or not they plan to file an appeal. And there's a question as to whether or not in their mind whether or not Kwame Kilpatrick was treated fairly by this judge, because the judge made a statement in his ruling yesterday that, you know what? You are not an ordinary citizen, because Kwame Kilpatrick, you know, had been asking the entire time to be treated like anybody else in this.

And he said, frankly, but you're not just anybody else, you're an elected official. So according to the defense attorneys, that is some sort of sign that he wasn't treating Kwame Kilpatrick fairly. And that I think might be the basis for their appeal, although they're going to spell that out a little bit more later on.

COX: If I remember correctly, he served his initial sentence in county jail as opposed to state prison. Will he go to state prison this time?

FAHLE: He is going to state prison. In fact, he's already been taken to a temporary facility, where they give him some counseling, some psychological testing and then they will decide where to put him. But it's unlikely that he'll end up in the general population in the state prison system. But he is in the state prison system.

COX: Rochelle, you had a point you wanted to make?

Ms. RILEY: I just wanted to echo what Craig said, and that is that I think the judge did make a mistake by including in his sentencing remarks that he was not the average person because when you're in a court room, everybody has to be treated the same. But I also will say that Kwame Kilpatrick during his entire tenure as mayor wanted to be treated as special. He wanted the special treatment all the way. And I think this is the first time that he didn't really get special treatment. He didn't get to not follow the law.

COX: So, Rochelle, this doesn't really bring closure to this whole episode, does it?

Ms. RILEY: This will never be a matter of closure until the city of Detroit decides that it is not going to spend as much time on it. There will be something having to do with this going on for years. What the city has to do is look away from that and focus on the future. We had a 12 and 13 year old girls in a fight and one of them got a gun and shot the other. We've got serious problems that need our attention beyond what happened with the former mayor.

COX: Really briefly to you, Craig, to end is the city moving forward?

FAHLE: You know, it has no choice. But, you know, this is part of moving forward. Until we uncover everything that was going on, you know, change really isn't going to happen here. And this is what change is it's ugly sometimes, it takes a long time and it's not a pretty process. And frankly, that's we're at right now. And this is all part of it. I think it's important that we get through this and do it completely.

COX: Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley joined us from the University of Michigan. Craig Fahle is the host of the "Craig Fahle Show" out of WDET in Detroit. He joined us from that station. Thank you both.

Mr. FAHLE: Thank you.

Ms. RILEY: Thank you.

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