Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick conspired with his father and best friend to turn Detroit’s City Hall into a den of bribes and kickbacks, a prosecutor said Friday as jurors heard opening statements in Kilpatrick’s corruption trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow gave jurors a 40-minute overview of what they’ll see and hear in the months ahead. He said Kilpatrick was an enthusiastic rising star in Michigan politics who moved from the state Legislature, then enriched himself with hundreds of thousands of dollars by muscling contractors, fooling political supporters and rigging city business.
“This was not politics as usual,” Chutkow said. “This was extortion, bribery, fraud. … They broke their oath to serve this city. It was the citizens of the city of Detroit who were left holding the short end of the stick.”
Kilpatrick — who quit office in 2008 in an unrelated scandal and eventually served more than a year in prison for a probation violation — is charged with racketeering conspiracy, extortion, bribery, fraud, false tax returns and tax evasion. His father, Bernard, is also on trial, along with the ex-mayor’s best friend, Bobby Ferguson, and former Detroit water boss Victor Mercado.
Chutkow described how Kilpatrick deposited more than $200,000 in cash in his bank account and paid his credit card bills with another $280,000 in cash.
“He no longer lived like the citizens he governed,” the prosecutor said, noting luxurious travel and custom-made suits.
Kilpatrick, who faces more than 10 years in prison if convicted, has declared his innocence. Defense attorney James Thomas repeated it for jurors in his opening statement but didn’t specifically address the large sums of money outlined by the government.
Thomas called the government’s case a “scam.”
“The government has charged a racketeering conspiracy and everything but the kitchen sink. … You’re going to learn about politics,” Thomas said. “Politics is like making sausage. You know it’s not pretty; it’s messy. But once it’s cooked, it tastes pretty good.”
The government’s evidence will include text messages, undercover video and testimony from as many as 10 people who have pleaded guilty in the investigation.
Some were Kilpatrick’s closest allies at City Hall, including former Deputy Mayor Kandia Milton, former executive assistant DeDan Milton and former chief administrative officer Derrick Miller.
This isn’t Kilpatrick’s first brush with the law. His 14-month prison term for a probation violation followed a 2008 conviction for lying from the witness stand about an extramarital affair, a relationship revealed in sexually explicit text messages.
Outside the downtown courthouse, the city Kilpatrick left behind in 2008 seems to be in a perpetual crisis. Detroit’s population has fallen significantly. An emergency manager has taken control of the public schools. Police officers work 12-hour shifts and have been hit with salary cutbacks.
The current mayor, Dave Bing, said he doesn’t have much interest in the trial.
“I don’t have time for that,” he said last week while celebrating the rebirth of the city’s century-old aquarium.