DETROIT (AP) — Jurors in a city buffeted by financial crisis convicted former Detroit Mayor and current Grand Prairie resident Kwame Kilpatrick on corruption charges Monday, capping a five-month trial that exposed a brazen pay-to-play culture during his years in office while the distressed city lost jobs and people and veered toward insolvency.
Kilpatrick could face more than 10 years in prison for two dozen convictions, from racketeering conspiracy to bribery to tax crimes. Once hailed as a hip, young big-city leader, he was portrayed at trial as an unscrupulous politician who took kickbacks, rigged contracts and lived far beyond his means.
“Kwame Kilpatrick didn’t lead the city. He looted the city,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said in victory.
At the government’s urging, Kilpatrick, 42, was ordered to jail to await his sentence, along with Bobby Ferguson, a city contractor who benefited from having a pal as mayor and also was convicted.
Businesses said they were forced to hire Ferguson as a subcontractor or risk losing work through the city’s water department. Separately, fundraiser Emma Bell said she gave Kilpatrick more than $200,000 as his personal cut of political donations, pulling cash from her bra during private meetings at city hall. A high-ranking aide, Derrick Miller, told jurors that he often was the middle man, passing bribes from others.
Internal Revenue Service agents said Kilpatrick spent $840,000 beyond his salary as mayor, from 2002 to fall 2008.
“I saw a lot that really, really turned my stomach,” said a female juror, a Detroit resident who had voted twice for Kilpatrick when he ran for mayor. “I couldn’t believe this type of thing was going on.”
The names of jurors were not released by the court, part of the secrecy promised by the judge last summer. Eleven agreed to speak to reporters, although they declined to give their names and refused to be interviewed by TV crews.
The trial occurred at a time of extraordinary crisis in Detroit. Population has fallen 25 percent to 700,000 since 2000. Public finances are in the red for billions of dollars, mostly future pension obligations. Half of property owners are overdue with their property taxes. Meanwhile, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder could appoint an emergency financial manager in a matter of days, making Detroit the largest city in the country to be taken over by state government.
Detroit’s woes were decades in the making. But Kilpatrick’s crimes certainly fueled perceptions that he and his staff were far adrift, selfishly lining their pockets, while the city slipped even further.
Detroit’s budget deficit topped $300 million by 2008 when Kilpatrick was forced out in a different scandal, a series of lies to cover up an extramarital affair with a top aide.
The current mayor, Dave Bing, said the verdict would allow the city to move from “this negative chapter in Detroit’s history.”
Andre Falconer, a 43-year-old plumber, said Kilpatrick is yet another politician who betrayed the public.
“Everybody should be held responsible for what they do,” Falconer said. “Kilpatrick’s case doesn’t reflect on Detroit, but reflects on his inability to perform the tasks he was elected to do. He didn’t have the maturity.”
McQuade hopes the case means a new day for the city.
“I hope it sends an important message … so that businesses will want to come do business here. So that honest politicians will want to serve as the mayor here. So that people will want to work for city government without fear of being compromised,” the prosecutor told reporters.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds said the jury finished its work Friday, the 14th day of deliberations, but wanted to go home for the weekend before announcing the results Monday.
“They said they wanted to sleep on it. … I had a sense of what the verdict was,” Edmunds told reporters.
Kilpatrick declined to comment outside court after days of regularly posting upbeat messages to his Twitter followers. Defense attorney James Thomas said the former mayor spoke by phone to his wife, Carlita, in Texas.
“He’s a pretty strong individual. He doesn’t show his emotions very easily,” Thomas said when asked how Kilpatrick was holding up.
Kilpatrick’s father, Bernard, also was charged as part of the racketeering conspiracy. The jury, however, couldn’t reach a consensus and convicted him only of submitting a false tax return. The Kilpatricks hugged twice after the verdict, with the son appearing to console his sobbing 71-year-old dad.
Kwame Kilpatrick, who now lives near Dallas, declined to testify. He has long denied any wrongdoing and even declared before trial that he wasn’t going to prison. Thomas told jurors that his client had access to loads of money because city workers and political supporters showered him with cash during holidays and birthdays.
The government also said Kilpatrick abused the Civic Fund, a nonprofit fund he created to help distressed Detroit residents. There was evidence that it was used for yoga lessons, camps for his kids, golf clubs and travel.
Kilpatrick was elected in 2001 at age 31. He resigned in 2008 and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in a different scandal involving sexually explicit text messages and an affair with his chief of staff.
The Democrat spent 14 months in prison for violating probation in that case after a judge said he failed to report assets that could be put toward his $1 million restitution to Detroit.
Voters booted his mother, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, from Congress in 2010, partly because of a negative perception of her due to her son’s troubles.