Former Detroit Lawmaker Headed To Prison

Monica Conyers, former Detroit city councilwoman and wife of Congressman John Conyers, has been sentenced to more than three years in prison for bribery. WDET News Director Jerome Vaughn explains the case that led to Ms. Conyers’ upcoming incarceration.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now we go to Detroit, where former Detroit City Council President Monica Conyers lost her bid yesterday to keep her from going to prison. She pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to commit bribery. The investigation was part of a sweeping FBI investigation into corruption at Detroit City Hall. Conyers was found to have accepted money in cash-stuffed envelopes in exchange for her vote on a billion dollar-city contract.

Monica Conyers is the wife of U.S. congressman John Conyers, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. She was sentenced back in March to serve more than three years in prison as part of her guilty plea, but she tried to rescind that plea. Hers is one of a number of corruption scandals clouding politics in Detroit. So we've called, for more perspective, Jerome Vaughn. He's news director of NPR member station WDET. Welcome back, thanks for joining us.

JEROME VAUGHN: Good to be with you.

MARTIN: Why did she lose her bid to delay going to prison? First of all, what were her grounds for delaying going to prison, and why did she lose?

VAUGHN: Well, the first time she said, I've got a sick relative. I've got to take care of this relative. Can you give me a little bit of time to take care of that family situation? The judge said, okay, you can have a couple of months. You can take care of that situation. Now, she's come back again and asked for another delay. And the judge basically said, look, you know, you had your one delay, there are other family members who can get involved. It's time for you to start your sentence. And so that's basically what he said.

MARTIN: How persuasive was her argument that she didn't mean to plead guilty? How did she press that case? Did she speak to the court directly? What did she say?

VAUGHN: Well, basically what she said was, you know, I got badgered into admitting guilt for this crime that I didn't do. And I don't want to go to prison for something I didn't do. And during one of the hearings, she sort of just started blurting it out to the court and then later, you know, filed some appeals along that line. The problem was, she had signed a plea agreement early on after admitting her guilt, saying: I've done this. As long as the prison sentence is less than five years, I have no right to go back and appeal it.

And so it was really very surprising during the hearing when she said, I don't want to go. I'm not guilty. And the judge basically said, well, you know, you had your shot. You have lawyers advising you. We're going to move on.

MARTIN: How are the residents dealing with this? And as I think people know, who follow politics at all, there's been a number of unpleasant issues involving to say it mildly - involving politicians from the area. There is, of course, the former mayor, who was disgraced of - a sex scandal involving his chief of staff, and then he's gone to prison. And then his mother recently lost her primary bid for re-election, and many people say she was tainted by the behavior of her sons.

I'm curious, but first of all, how are people responding to the Monica Conyers situation?

VAUGHN: Well, I think you put it tactfully. I mean, I think the short of it is, you know, people are really sick of the situation. They're sick of the corruption. You know, on blogs and on talk shows, people are saying, look, if I had tried any of these things, they would have thrown me in jail right away. They wouldn't have given me a chance to take care of any of my relatives. I'd be, you know, making big rocks and the little rocks each and every day.

And so people are fed up with it. They want to see her go and do her time. And I think overall, they're sick of the corruption. I mean, that's one of the reasons that Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick did not get re-elected, the close association with her son, who is in prison again for violating probation. And the - you know, it's like the layers of an onion. The corruption gets peeled back layer by layer by layer. And I think people are just tired of it.

MARTIN: But, you know, it's interesting. You put it out that Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick seems to have been affected by Kwame Kilpatrick's - her son's situation. But John Conyers, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, long-serving member of Congress himself, he doesn't seem to have been affected by what's happening with his wife - or has he?

VAUGHN: No. And I think the association there...

MARTIN: Why is that?

VAUGHN: I think the association there is not as strong between John Conyers and Monica Conyers. I think it was a ways after she was really elected in office before people really knew that they were a married couple. And all during the unfolding of the investigation, John Conyers really was at arm's length. He was not really seen here in Detroit around his wife. He was really known for all the things he had done in Washington. And I think people, really very clearly, made that separation between the two of them.

And that didn't happen with Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, with Kwame Kilpatrick. And that might have been because she was such an advocate for him throughout the whole incident.

MARTIN: And very visible, sure - very outspoken. Jerome Vaughn is director of news and programming at WDET, Detroit member station - NPR member station, and he joined us from their studios. Jerome, thanks so much.

VAUGHN: Glad to be with you.

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