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Trump commutes sentence of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick

Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick
Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick

Outgoing President Donald Trump has commuted the prison sentence of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who has served about seven years of a 28-year sentence for corruption.

A White House statement said that prominent members of the Detroit community had supported Kilpatrick’s commutation and noted, “During his incarceration, Mr. Kilpatrick has taught public speaking classes and has led Bible Study groups with his fellow inmates.”

The former Democratic mayor was convicted in 2013 of racketeering conspiracy, fraud, extortion and tax crimes. The government called it the “Kilpatrick enterprise,” a years-long scheme to shake down contractors and reward allies.

Kilpatrick’s lawyers had asked for a 15-year sentence, but U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds agreed with prosecutors and ordered an extraordinary 28-year term. Many Detroiters – critics and supporters alike – say seven years was enough. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan tweeted his support for the commutation.

Former state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo is among those who lobbied the White House on Kilpatrick’s behalf. She says his sentence highlighted the racism baked into the criminal justice system.

“I see the huge difference in how Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is treated, current Mayor Mike Duggan is treated, and any other non-Black elected around this country is perceived and treated, but we’re supposed to keep Kwame Kilpatrick locked away in jail forever,” said Gay-Dagnogo, who has indicated an interest in running for Detroit mayor herself.

Other Detroit residents expressed similar sentiments following Wednesday’s news. 53-year old Abdul Haqq said he’s happy Kilpatrick will be going home.

“He didn't kill anybody,” said Haqq. “There's no way – 28 years – we all know the justice system doesn't work for us Black folks."

Haqq said he thinks Kilpatrick should steer clear of public life, and enjoy his family. "Don't run for public office, because he did break the law. But he's not the first one,” Haqq said.

State law prevents felons from running for public office for 20 years after their conviction. For Kilpatrick, that would be 2033. A pardon would have essentially erased his conviction and the restrictions that came with it. But Trump issued a commutation, not a pardon.

"We wish him all the best,” said Haqq. “We gave this guy a mandate and he blew it, but he's not the first. And we still love him."

Still, some Detroit residents say he fleeced the city and got the sentence he deserved.

“I don't think he deserves” clemency, said Sharon Blount. “His situation I know because I live in Detroit. I love Detroit. I felt personally hurt by what happened, so no, I don't think the original sentence was too long.”

Although Kilpatrick is set to be freed, his friend Bobby Ferguson is still serving a 21-year prison term related to the racketeering scheme. Other people convicted as part of the scandal, including Kilpatrick’s father Bernard, were sentenced to shorter terms.

Kilpatrick, the son of former U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, was just 26 when he was elected to a seat in the Michigan House. He became the youngest person elected Detroit mayor in 2001, when he was 31.

Kilpatrick’s commutation was part of a flurry of clemency action in the final hours of Trump’s White House term that benefited more than 140 people, including rap performers, ex-members of Congress and other allies of Trump and his family.

This post was updated Wednesday, January 20 at 3:20 p.m.

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Sarah Hulett is Michigan Radio’s Director of Amplify & Longform, helping reporters to do their best work.
Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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