DETROIT — A former Detroit mayor was sent to federal prison for nearly three decades Thursday, after offering little remorse for the widespread corruption under his watch but acknowledging he let down the troubled city during a critical period before it landed in bankruptcy.
Prosecutors argued that Kwame Kilpatrick’s “corrupt administration exacerbated the crisis” that Detroit now finds itself in.
A judge agreed with the government’s recommendation that 28 years in prison was appropriate for rigging contracts, taking bribes and putting his own price on public business.
It is one of the toughest penalties doled out for public corruption in recent U.S. history and seals a dramatic fall for Kilpatrick, who was elected mayor in 2001 and is the son of a former senior member of Congress.
While Detroit’s finances were eroding, he was getting bags of cash from city contractors, kickbacks hidden in the bra of his political fundraiser and private cross-country travel from businessmen, according to trial evidence.
Kilpatrick, 43, said he was sorry if he let down his hometown but denied ever stealing from the citizens of Detroit.
“I’m ready to go so the city can move on,” Kilpatrick said, speaking softly with a few pages of notes before U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds ordered the sentence.
“The people here are suffering, they’re hurting. A great deal of that hurt I accept responsibility for,” he said.
In March, he was convicted of racketeering conspiracy, fraud, extortion and tax crimes. The government called it the “Kilpatrick enterprise,” a years-long scheme to shake down contractors and reward allies. He was doomed by his own text messages, which revealed efforts to fix deals for a pal, Bobby Ferguson, an excavator.
Prosecutors said $73 million of Ferguson’s $127 million in revenue from city work came through extortion. The government alleged that he in turn shared cash with Kilpatrick.
Agents who pored over bank accounts and credit cards said Kilpatrick spent $840,000 beyond his salary during his time as mayor, from 2002 to fall 2008. Defense attorneys tried to portray the money as generous gifts from political supporters who opened their wallets for birthdays or holidays.
“It was the citizens of Detroit who suffered when they turned over their hard-earned tax dollars but failed to receive the best services,” the judge said.