Story originally appeared on Freep.
Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was a spender, a schemer and a liar.
And taxpayers paid for it, by the millions.
Over seven years, Kilpatrick's public corruption schemes, lavish lifestyle and ethical missteps cost taxpayers at least $20 million, a tab the financially strapped city was in no position to pick up but did anyway -- usually without knowing.
On Thursday, Kilpatrick will be sentenced for 24 corruption convictions. As he heads to federal prison for what could be decades, one important question lingers: How much did his extortion, kickback and bribery rackets contribute to the city's financial crisis and its filing in July for the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation's history?
"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," federal prosecutors said in court documents. "But his corrupt administration exacerbated the crisis."
In purely monetary figures, the cost of Kilpatrick's ring of corruption is staggering:
- There's the $8.4-million settlement the city coughed up in the 2007 police whistle-blower trial.
- Another $9.6 million in illegal profits was pocketed over the years through crooked water and sewer contracts, the government says.
- A $500,000 state grant that was meant for kids and seniors instead went to Kilpatrick's contractor friend, Bobby Ferguson, and Kilpatrick's wife, Carlita Kilpatrick. Taxpayers also paid $42,000 to lease two Lincoln Navigators for the former first lady.
- Kilpatrick misused his city-issued credit card, charging more than $210,000 in his first three years in office for perks like a family trip to Las Vegas, spa visits, a hotel room for the babysitter and an $850 steak dinner. The mayor's petty cash fund also was abused to the tune of $144,000, which covered things like Lions football tickets, a Rolling Stones concert, health club membership and $43,000 worth of meals.
- Tax dollars aside, there's also the $84 million in losses to troubled city pension funds. Six individuals, including Kilpatrick appointee and former fraternity brother Jeffrey Beasley, face criminal charges in that case. Kilpatrick wasn't indicted, but he is named as a coconspirator.
- The cost to taxpayers for prosecuting him and providing him with a public defender won't be known until his appeals are exhausted.
But much more difficult to quantify is the nonmonetary cost of corruption: the betrayal of the public's trust. The honest contractors who were elbowed out of deals, even though their bids were lower. The businesses that refused to participate in pay-to-play schemes and just stayed away -- or went somewhere else.
"The numbers don't tell the gravity of the situation," said Reid Schar, the former federal prosecutor who successfully prosecuted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. "When you have public corruption cases, the things that are very difficult to gauge and are not captured are, 'How much of public confidence is eroded by what the person has done? ...
"How do you put a value on a company that didn't bid or get the job?' You don't know."
In 2002, for example, Kilpatrick killed a plan to add a House of Blues restaurant at Ford Field because the company that proposed it refused to hire Kilpatrick's father and codefendant as its minority partner. Kilpatrick had pledged $10 million in city funds but changed his mind when the company refused to hire his dad.
In 2006, Ferguson used his relationship with the mayor to pressure a company into giving him 40% of a contract to renovate the Detroit police headquarters. The company offered 30%. Ferguson declined. The company then bowed out of the deal.
In 2001, minority contractor William Hayes was stiffed out of a $24.7-million sewer repair job that Kilpatrick steered to Ferguson instead. Six years later, Hayes closed his 40-year-old excavation business, claiming later that Ferguson and Kilpatrick made it impossible for him to compete for water and sewer contracts.
"He helped put me out of business," Hayes told the Free Press in March, referring to Ferguson. "It said right in the text messages. He told Kwame to put me out."
Meanwhile, Kilpatrick padded the city payroll with friends and family, including a cousin who admitted stealing nearly $20,000 from the Manoogian Mansion restoration fund. City payroll records show that more than two dozen of Kilpatrick's appointees were relatives or close friends who got an average 36% in salary increases while other employees got 2%.
The government is seeking at least 28 years in prison for Kilpatrick and up to 28 years for his longtime friend and partner in crime, Ferguson, who got $127 million in city contracts while Kilpatrick was mayor. Prosecutors said at least $73 million of that work was obtained illegally.
The defense is challenging the sentencing guidelines, saying the high end of Kilpatrick's sentence should be 15 years. The defense will make its own sentencing recommendation on Monday.
Schar, who got a 14-year conviction for Blagojevich, said the government's request for Kilpatrick is noteworthy, but not surprising.
"The courts are becoming less tolerant of the behavior and are willing to punish them more severely," Schar said of corrupt politicians.
For example, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who preceded Blagojevich, got 6½ years for 18 public corruption convictions in 2006. Five years later, Blagojevich got 14 years on similar counts. And last year, Jimmy Dimora, a county commissioner in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, got 28 years in prison.
"You're beginning to see (public corruption sentences) move up. ... The trend is definitely up," Schar said. "It seems clear that because these types of cases continue nationwide, the lesser sentences are not proving a sufficient deterrent."
Prosecutors in Detroit agree. "Unfortunately, the prosecutions and resulting penalties in past public corruption cases in this region have not been sufficient," they said in court documents. "They clearly did not dissuade Kilpatrick and his associates from using the mayor's office to engage in a brazen six-year crime spree."
"Kilpatrick is more culpable -- and his misconduct more pervasive -- than any other public corruption defendant sentenced in recent memory," prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo, later adding: "None of the other public officials disrupted his community as profoundly as Kilpatrick did."
Todd Haugh, a law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, says he believes Kilpatrick's criminal record is especially damaging. He has been to jail three times: once for obstruction of justice and perjury in the text message scandal and twice for probation violations, including one that took place in the middle of his public corruption trial. He took a cash wire money transfer from a pastor in Chicago and never reported it to his parole officer.
"I can't imagine that he's not going to get a very stiff sentence," said Haugh, a white-collar crime expert who helped amend federal fraud sentencing guidelines, which stiffened public corruption penalties in 2004.
"That's a problem under the (sentencing) guidelines. It shows that someone has a history of doing the wrong thing, and that's something judges care about," said Haugh, adding that the monetary cost of Kilpatrick's crimes also is noteworthy. "This is a lot of money. We're not talking about a couple thousand bucks here. We're talking about pretty big amounts."
Kilpatrick and Ferguson have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Ferguson has long maintained that he earned every contract he got. And Kilpatrick has argued that he didn't have as much say over contracts as the government claims, and that he never forced anyone to give Ferguson work.
Kilpatrick's lawyer, Harold Gurewitz, argues that Kilpatrick's suggested punishment is based on crimes that were never proved. He also said Kilpatrick's criminal history was overstated, and Kilpatrick was never the leader of any conspiracy.
"I have faith in the judicial system," said Gurewitz. "All we can really hope and pray for is that the system works in the way that it's intended."
When U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds sentences Kilpatrick, she will have several factors to consider, including: the purpose of the punishment, the harm that was caused, deterrence, whether the defendant can be rehabilitated, and how other similar defendants have been punished to ensure there's no disparity.
Haugh noted that Edmunds also can consider the city's bankruptcy filing. "That's like a CEO cooking the books and the company goes bankrupt. ... I don't know that there's a reason the judge can't consider that."
Edmunds also heard plenty at trial. There was minority contractor Avinash Rachmale, who said that he gave Ferguson $1.7 million for no work because he feared having his contracts killed. Contractor Thomas Hardiman said he lost two contracts worth $15 million combined because he wouldn't give Ferguson a big enough cut. Past mayoral employees said they were hit up for cash twice a year to buy Kilpatrick Christmas and birthday gifts. And Emma Bell, Kilpatrick's fund-raiser, said that she gave the ex-mayor more than $200,000 in cash kickbacks because she felt pressured.
"It struck me as such a brazen case," said Richard Winters, a veteran government professor at Dartmouth College who has researched and written about political corruption.
"I can't believe that the courts will ignore that anecdotal evidence," said Winters, referring to allegations of pay-to-play schemes that shoved certain businesses out of deals.
Winters noted that public corruption doesn't always deter economic development. For example, Illinois and Chicago have had plenty of public corruption, including four convicted governors -- yet Chicago is thriving.
Unfortunately, Detroit's not in the same boat. The city says it's bankrupt.
"I would be hesitant to lay something as big as that at the foot of (Kilpatrick)," said Schar, the Blagojevich prosecutor. "But if I wanted to subtly address this, I'd say, 'We're in bankruptcy. There may have been ways to avoid that.' "