Before resigning and dropping off the political radar to serve a prison sentence on state perjury charges, Detroit native son and controversial Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was defiant: “I want to tell you Detroit that you done set me up for a comeback.”
Now he is back, but definitely not on the terms he wanted. While now serving a 36-month sentence in prison for violating the terms of his probation, Kilpatrick (D) is facing new federal racketeering charges which make the texting scandal that ended his political career look like sandbox play.
A federal grand jury issued a 38-count indictment against Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, city contractor Bobby Ferguson, former water department chief Victor Mercado and former top Mayoral aide Derrick Miller. It’s an embarrassing and rather revealing 89-page indictment that paints an ugly portrait of a Kilpatrick Administration lavishly enriching itself through kickbacks, contracting threats and money laundering.
The full indictment can be found at the Detroit Free Press website.
The new federal charges open up a new volume in the disgraced career of Kilpatrick, once seen as a rising star representing a new school of politics in urban America. Once dubbed Motor City’s “hip hop Mayor,” Kilpatrick – with his tightly-knit circle of friends, family and aides – seems more like a Black version of Tony Soprano as federal prosecutors seek to use the charges as part of an aggressive effort to root out years of rampant corruption in Detroit’s city hall.
During a news conference announcing the indictments, lead U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade was sardonic in reflecting on an investigation that was costly in terms of resources and time spent. “People often ask me, ‘What took so long?” said McQuade. “As you see from the indictment, this case involves very complex schemes.”
As expected, attorneys for all the defendants, including Kilpatrick, would only issue template statements saying that each of their clients would mount spirited defenses and were looking forward to being exonerated.
At one very revealing point in the indictment, longtime Kilpatrick friend Ferguson is quoted as saying during a text exchange with Kilpatrick: “I am famous now, just need to get some money.”
“Lol! Right. Let’s get you some,” Kilpatrick responds.
“Us,” Ferguson replies back, lightly correcting Kilpatrick to imply the extent of an enterprise that prosecutors argue fed ravenously off the public trust.
The government allegations are dramatic and voluminous, reading much like the script of a complex mob movie, replete with descriptions of the men forming fake non-profits to draw city funds – to an unexplained $500,000 infusion of cash into Kilpatrick’s bank account. Kilpatrick’s father, allege investigators, deposited over $600,000 into his bank account while filing false tax returns for 2004, 2005 and 2007.
And there are multiple stories of Kilpatrick’s circle threatening to cut funding to city contractors who did not agree to pay the accused under the table cash. In one instance, then Mayor Kilpatrick allegedly stalled a $50 million sewer upgrade contract as part of a plan to force the winning bid company to pay Ferguson. Ultimately, the company agreed and the city more than doubled the size of the contract to $138 million – with Ferguson snagging $24.7 million of it.
There are numerous examples of Ferguson receiving city contracts, monetary awards or on-the-side cash payments for work he did not perform. Both Ferguson and Miller are longtime friends of Kilpatrick, from Ferguson’s introduction to Kilpatrick in 1996 when he was a state representative to Miller, who later became a city hall chief administrative officer, as Kilpatrick’s high school basketball team mate.
In another allegation, Kilpatrick, his father, Ferguson and Miller, managed to persuade the state of Michigan to award a $650,000 grant to a non-profit they created and controlled. While they officially stated the money would be used for community development purposes, prosecutors claim it was used for personal gain and enrichment.
Prosecutors did not find any wrongdoing by Kilpatrick’s mother, outgoing Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick (D-MI) or his sister Ayanna. Kilpatrick would not offer any comment other than “no reaction.” Political observers point to her son’s scandals and mounting legal trouble as the main reason voters ousted her from office during the Democratic primary in her district earlier this year.
Dismissing any hint that prosecutors would be lenient in the case of Kilpatrick, given he was forced from office to serve a state prison sentence, McQuade was dismissive and direct: “Getting out of office does not get you off the hook.”