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03/11/2013

Detroit's Kwame Kilpatrick guilty on 24 of 30 counts of corruption

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Former Detrot Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick makes his way into court Monday (Regina H. Boone/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

Detroit's Kwame Kilpatrick always dressed to the nines.

And so it was yesterday when Kilpatrick, the former Mayor of Detroit, was found guilty of 24 out of 30 federal charges – including racketeering.

The charges arose, ironically enough, out of Kilpatrick’s handling of sewer and sludge contracts. He and a city contractor, Bobby Ferguson, cut deals that bilked Detroit taxpayers out of millions.

While they were re-lining the city’s sewers – they were also lining their pockets.

Ferguson was guilty on nine of 11 charges.

On Monday, judgment day, Kilpatrick wore shiny black shoes, smart grey slacks, and a big, black, tailored sports jacket that hugged his massive upper body.

He’s a handsome man and looked good; especially for a man about to head off to federal penitentiary for 20 years or so.

Sentencing will come later.

During a break before an appeal for bail – he’d get none – journalists swarmed him on the steps of the federal courthouse.

Some tried to pry him open with the some of the old ‘soften him up’ questions: what about the kids, your wife, the family?

Then, the knockout punch came rushing in: “What do you say to all those taxpayers?” one reporter pressed. “You spent all that money – millions of dollars – in a city that’s broke!”

It had to hurt.

He said nothing.

Kilpatrick grew up a local kid; played football at inner-city Cass Tech High.

He was full of promise.

He’d shone at the Michigan state legislature to which he was elected in the 1990s at just 26. He later became House Democratic leader, and then went on to become Detroit’s youngest mayor in Nov. 2001 at the age of 31.

But he got greedy – and arrogant. He fired two cops who had been investigating his wrongdoings, a move that set the stage for his ultimate undoing. The fired cops sued him, and stayed on the case. They got his emails and text messages that showed he had lied under oath when the case finally came to court; he had also had an affair with his executive assistant and lied under oath about that; and there were revelations that he had spent $57,000 of taxpayers’ money to lease a Lincoln for his wife – and blew through another $160,000 of public money renting limos and nightclubbing.

Back in the court on Monday, the Detroit Press captured the fall from grace in just a few words: “Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his friend Bobby Ferguson removed their suit coats. Then their ties and jewelry came off…Kilpatrick handed his driver’s license to his mother. Then the men, who were now handcuffed, were led out of the courtroom.”

Detroit’s long nightmare – well, at least a part of it – is over.

Bill Schiller has held bureau postings for the Toronto Star in Johannesburg, Berlin, London and Beijing. He is a NNA and Amnesty International Award winner, and a Harvard Nieman Fellow from the class of '06. Follow him on Twitter @wschiller

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