President Donald Trump commuted the sentence of the former Democratic mayor of Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick, who was found guilty of two dozen corruption charges including racketeering, extortion, and fraud.
The White House statement on Kilpatrick’s commutation notes that it was supported by “prominent members of the Detroit community,” as well as Alveda King, Alice Johnson, and Diamond and Silk. The statement also notes that Kilpatrick “has taught public speaking classes and has led Bible Study groups with his fellow inmates” during his incarceration.
In 2013, Kilpatrick was convicted on 24 counts of corruption in a wide-ranging case that included extortion, racketeering, bribery, and mail, wire, and tax fraud charges. Federal prosecutors described this scheme to shake down contractors and reward cronies as the “Kilpatrick enterprise.”
“Criminal activity was a way of life for [Kilpatrick], and he constantly used the power of his office to look for new opportunities to make money illegally,” said Robert Beeckman, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agent who led the investigation of Kilpatrick and his corrupt administration.
Though Kilpatrick’s lawyers asked for a 15-year sentence, U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds gave him the full 28-years that the prosecution requested, basing her decision on the severity and blatant nature of Kilpatrick’s corruption and hoping it would serve as a warning to other politicians. “That way of business is over. We’re done,” Judge Edmunds said.
The FBI’s website details the extensive investigation it conducted into the Kilpatrick administration’s corruption:
Kilpatrick and [his contractor friend Bobby] Ferguson established a “pay to play” system that made breaking the law standard operating procedure. Kilpatrick extorted city vendors, rigged bids, and took bribes. He used funds from non-profit civic organizations to line his pockets and those of his family. And he was unabashed about it.
“His crimes were not the result of a momentary lapse in judgment,” said a document prepared for the court by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan. “He systematically exploited his office to enrich himself, his friends, and his family.” For example, Kilpatrick and Ferguson obtained more than $500,000 from the state of Michigan and private donors for non-profit organizations they controlled. The organizations were supposed to help the community. Instead, the mayor spent large sums on himself for luxury vacations, spa treatments, and golf clubs.
A significant break in the case came when investigators discovered that Kilpatrick’s cell phone provider had kept an archive of all his text messages. “The messages were explicit,” Beeckman said. “He talked about bid rigging, bribes, and other criminal activity. He had no idea there would be a record of those messages.”
Investigators also followed the money, which left no doubt about Kilpatrick’s corruption. Before he became mayor, Kilpatrick’s paycheck from the state of Michigan was electronically deposited into his bank account, and he made regular withdrawals to pay bills and to get cash. After his election, he stopped making withdrawals and instead made only large cash deposits.
Kilpatrick’s bank records revealed more than $840,000 in unexplained expenditures above and beyond his salary as mayor—and none of that money was disclosed on his tax returns. “There were times,” Beeckman said, “when the mayor would hand one of the officers on his protective detail an envelope with cash and tell him to take it to the bank and pay his credit card bill.”
Kilpatrick was one of the 143 people Trump granted clemency to in the final hours of his presidency. Among the other Democrat felons to receive clemency was wealthy Democrat donor Dr. Salomon Melgen, who was convicted on 67 felony counts of Medicaid fraud in April 2017. Trump declined to pardon Wikileaks whistleblowers Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.