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Monday, March 11, 2013

Former mayor of Detroit convicted on 24 counts of racketeering and extortion. Prosecution to ask that he be sentenced to a minimum of 20 years of living in Detroit

A jury decided this morning that former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick ran a criminal enterprise — complete with extortion, bribes and kickbacks — while he was the mayor of the state’s largest city.
The panel convicted him and longtime contractor friend Bobby Ferguson of running a racket out of the mayor’s office for years to enrich themselves. They found the pair guilty of shakedowns and bid-rigging. In some cases, longtime friends testified they handed cash to Kilpatrick in envelopes.
Interviewed afterward, jurors said they took each charge seriously and "strictly looked at the evidence," as one juror said.
Juror No. 8 said that there was “passion … to see that the right thing was done.”
Another juror said: "I saw a lot that really, really turned my stomach, and I couldn't believe this kind of thing was going on... but there was never any anger. Disappointment is all I feel."
Witnesses told of Kilpatrick’s lavish lifestyle — complete with luxury vacations, custom-made suits and golf outings — despite being at the helm of a city so broke it’s on the verge of a state-appointed emergency financial manager to right its finances.
After five months of testimony, 80 government witnesses, text messages and secret video and voice recordings, the jury convicted Kilpatrick on 24 of 30 counts. It acquitted him on three counts and failed to reach a verdict on three others.
• Kilpatrick was convicted on 24 of 30 counts. The jury deadlocked on three counts against him, and acquitted him of another three counts.
• Ferguson was convicted on nine of 11 counts. The jury deadlocked on one count and aquitted him on one.
• Bernard Kilpatrick was convicted on one of four counts. The jury deadlocked on the RICO count against Bernard Kilpatrick, unable to agree unanimously on whether he engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity out of the mayor's office, along with his son and Ferguson. He was acquitted on two other counts, a tax charge and attempted extortion. On the latter count, the jury was not convinced that Bernard Kilpatrick extorted a business executive who was trying to push through the $1.2 billion Synagro sludge deal in the city of Detroit.
“Absolutely,” Bernard Kilpatrick said when asked whether he believes the jury got it wrong. He said nothing else before slipping into a red Ford Mustang a few minutes after his son left the courthouse.
“It’s been a fast-paced day, but at this point, I am just absorbing it all,” said Bernard Kilpatrick’s lawyer, Bill Shea.
Kilpatrick shook his head at times as the verdicts were read and appeared stunned as he left the courtroom. He declined to comment after the hearing.
Kilpatrick declined to comment after the hearing. Later today, Edmunds ordered Kilpatrick and Ferguson to be remanded into custody.
Coming out of the courthouse, Ferguson said, “God is good.”
Kilpatrick's attorney, James Thomas, said they are weighing their options on appealing the remand and will appeal the convictions.
The most serious charges, including racketeering and mail fraud, carry maximum 20-year prison sentences. Other crimes in the indictment, such as bribery and extortion, each carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence. The Kilpatricks also faced tax charges, which carry three-year maximum prison sentences.
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade hailed the jury's verdict, saying it's not about fixing past problems, but ensuring Detroit has a better future.
"Although this investigation spanned many years, this case is not about the past. It is about the future. This verdict has sent a powerful message that corruption will not be tolerated in this community. The people of Detroit deserve better and expect better."
McQuade also chided Kilpatrick for his greed.
"Candidates should seek public office to make a difference, not to make money for themselves."
The most weighty of the charges was the one levied under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO), a 1970 law that was initially designed to combat organized crime but has since been used in several public corruption trials. In the Detroit case, prosecutors charged the group they called the “Kilpatrick Enterprise” engaged in a pattern of criminal activity — one of the requirements of RICO — that included at least two criminal acts.
In the courtroom, Kwame Kilpatrick’s hands were clasped in front of him and resting on his chin, Ferguson was slumped in his chair and Bernard Kilpatrick was on the edge of his seat.
Edmunds said the jury reached a unanimous agreement on 40 of the 45 counts.
The defendants were accused of, among other things, shaking down contractors and rigging bids to help steer lucrative contracts to Ferguson. Prosecutors said the philosophy of the enterprise was simple: If you wanted work in the City of Detroit, you either had to hire Ferguson, or in some cases, hire the mayor’s father as a consultant.
That was one of the main themes in the government’s nearly five-month trial, which featured a mountain of evidence that included 80 government witnesses, scores of bank records, contract agreements, text messages and secret video and audio recordings.
The jury also heard about Kilpatrick’s lavish lifestyle and his non-profit Kilpatrick Civic Fund, which the government said the former mayor used as a personal piggy bank. Prosecutors said the fund was meant for voter education and youth, but Kilpatrick used it for everything from yoga lessons and vacation getaways to college tuition for his relatives and spy equipment.
Several businessmen also testified that they lavished Kilpatrick with vacations, custom-made suits and jewelry because they wanted to keep him happy, and they needed help with city deals.
All three men vigorously denied the charges, saying they never demanded anything of anyone and were committed to helping minority businesses grow.
When the trial started last fall, it included a fourth defendant — ex-city water director Victor Mercado. But he pleaded guilty during trial to conspiracy and awaits sentencing, which has not been scheduled.
Mercado had maintained his innocence for months, but then admitted he had helped steer lucrative contracts toward Ferguson.
Prosecutors said Mercado never took bribes and was a “reluctant co-conspirator.” The jurors were never told why four defendants dwindled to three, and Mercado never testified against his codefendants.
Though a conviction carries up to five years in prison, attorneys agreed Mercado should face no more than 18 months.
Mercado’s sentencing most likely will not occur until after the others are sentenced, said one of his attorneys, Martin Crandall.
The verdict Monday should have no impact on Mercado’s sentence because evidence at the trial “demonstrated that Mr. Mercado was not a member of the racketeering enterprise,” Crandall said.
He said he was not surprised at the verdict, but did not elaborate.
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