Former Detroit mayor sentenced to 28 years for ‘pay-to-play’ bribery

Former Detroit mayor sentenced to 28 years in prison 0:24

DETROIT - Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in prison Thursday for a sweeping scheme to enrich himself and others through fixed contracts, bribes and kickbacks.

Kilpatrick was found guilty in March of two dozen charges including racketeering and extortion -- all the while the city's finances foundered.

Before his sentence was read, Kilpatrick addressed the court and said he was "ready to go so the city can move on."

"The people here are suffering, they're hurting. A great deal of that hurt I accept responsibility for," he told presiding U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds. "I want the city to heal. I want it to prosper. I want the city to be great again. I want the city to have the same feeling it had in 2006 when the Super Bowl was here."

In response, Judge Edmunds condemned Kilpatrick's self-interest.

"A man with the charisma and ability of Mr. Kilpatrick chose to use his talents on personal aggrandizement and enrichment when he had the potential to do so much for the city," she said before imposing the sentence.

Kilpatrick had little reaction as his sentence was read and was then handcuffed and removed from the courtroom, NBC affiliate WDIV reported.

Federal prosecutors had asked for 28 years, while Kilpatrick’s defense attorneys had hoped the sentence wouldn’t exceed 15 years.

As mayor, Kilpatrick was shaking down contractors, ensuring that a friend got millions in city work and turning a nonprofit fund to help struggling Detroiters into a personal slush fund, according to evidence at his five-month trial.

"He created a 'pay-to-play' system for the provision of city goods and services, which compromised vast swaths of city government, including the water and sewer system, the convention center, the pension system, casino developments and recreation centers," prosecutors said in a court filing last week. "City government essentially became up for grabs for the right price."

Kilpatrick, 43, quit office in 2008 because of a different scandal involving sexually explicit text messages and an extramarital affair.

He was forced out while the auto industry was nearing collapse and Detroit's unstable finances were deteriorating even more. The city now is run by a state-appointed emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, who took Detroit into Chapter 9 bankruptcy last summer as a last-ditch effort to fix billions of dollars in debt.

"Kilpatrick is not the main culprit of the city's historic bankruptcy, which is the result of larger social and economic forces at work for decades. But his corrupt administration exacerbated the crisis," prosecutors had argued.

Defense attorneys called it a "cheap shot," noting Kilpatrick has been out of office for five years.

"The government's attempt to roll the city of Detroit's 2013 bankruptcy filing into the ... case oversimplifies the complex problems that Detroit has faced for more than five decades," Harold Gurewitz and Margaret Raben wrote.

They wanted Judge Edmunds to give some credit to Kilpatrick for the 2006 Super Bowl and 2005 baseball All-Star Game in Detroit, as well as 75 new downtown businesses.

"The almost constant barrage of critical, hostile and deprecating commentary in the media that began within about two years after he took office has served to obscure numerous and significant accomplishments of Kilpatrick and his administration," defense attorneys said.

Agents who pored over bank accounts and credit cards said Kilpatrick spent $840,000 beyond his salary during his time as mayor. His trial attorney, James Thomas, tried to portray the money as generous gifts from political supporters who opened their wallets for birthdays or holidays.

In their sentencing memo, Kilpatrick's lawyers made a point that's commonly argued in cases of high-profile criminals: Our client already has suffered deeply.

Kilpatrick is "infamous, destitute and disgraced," the attorneys said.

Kipatrick has 14 days to appeal. A restitution judgement will be read at a later date, reports.

NBC's Simon Moya-Smith contributed to this report.