Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
The former Detroit mayor's sentence dwarfs those handed out in other high-profile political corruption cases in recent years.
Twenty-eight years. That's how long former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced to serve in federal prison Thursday, following his conviction this spring on 24 counts of racketeering, fraud and extortion.
Kilpatrick, Detroit's mayor from 2002 to 2008, ran what the government called "a money-making racket out of City Hall that steered millions to himself, his family and his friends while the impoverished city hobbled along."
According to the Detroit Free Press, U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds said it was important to her that Kilpatrick's sentence reflect the seriousness of his crimes, which were made worse by the involvement of so many other people, including city officials. Thirty-four people besides Kilpatrick have been convicted in connection with the public corruption case.
Edmunds said that while mayor, Kilpatrick "lived the high life, hosted lavish parties, accepted cash tributes and loaded the city payroll with friends and family." Authorities have estimated that Kilpatrick's scheme cost the government $9.6 million, though Edmunds calculated the sentencing guidelines based on a more conservative figure of $4.6 million.
Kilpatrick's sentence dwarfs those handed out in other high-profile political corruption cases in recent years. Ex-D.C. Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr., who was convicted of embezzling roughly $353,500, was sentenced to three years in prison in 2012. In 2011, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years for a spate of corruption charges. Former Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham of California received a sentence of eight years and four months in 2006 for accepting millions in bribes from defense contractors. In 2002, Vincent (Buddy) Cianci Jr., former mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, was sentenced to five years and four months. In 2001, former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards was sentenced to 10 years in prison for extorting $3 million.
The Free-Press notes that federal sentencing guidelines for political corruption cases were strengthened in 2004, when the U.S. Sentencing Commission decided that offenders who abuse their positions of public trust are inherently more culpable than those who seek to corrupt them, and their offenses "present a somewhat greater threat to the integrity of governmental process."
The sentencing comes as Detroit is working its way through bankruptcy court in an attempt to emerge from decades of financial woes. As prosecutors wrote recently in court documents, "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.”
“I want the city to heal, I want the city to prosper. I want the city to be great in the end," said Kilpatrick in his final comments to the court before his sentence.
Mike Riggs contributed to this story