Just when you thought former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s public dramas in Detroit were long over, the Kilpatrick story is about to be splashed all across the nation as he is set to begin one of the highest-profile public corruption trials in Detroit history.
While Kilpatrick says he “never stole a dime” in his life, the federal government claims that Kilpatrick used city government like an organized crime family when he was mayor, shaking down city contractors for bribes and using his position as an opportunity to make a lot of money.
Observers are describing the coming trial as a “classic Greek tragedy” because some of Kilpatrick’s friends and former associates will be testifying against him.
“It’s not so much the law that’s interesting. But there are some of the elements of the classic Greek tragedy,” says Peter Henning, former federal prosecutor and Wayne State University law professor. Henning says the government’s case hinges on wiretaps, the infamous text messages and testimony from some of Kilpatrick’s childhood friends who worked in his administration.
“These are his buddies who have now turned on him. And that’s where prosecutors have to be careful because a witness can equivocate. Might that send a message to a jury that, well, maybe there’s just not enough evidence here,” Henning says.
The scandal began as a relatively small-potatoes dispute over racy text messages sent to his mistress and former aide. Kilpatrick eventually admitted to lying and was sentenced to four months in jail and a million dollars restitution. But the hits kept coming. While was he was on probation, a judge found him guilty of hiding assets and sentenced him to 14 months of prison time. Then, two years ago, the federal government stepped in with the current allegations, indicting Kilpatrick and three others for crimes that included 38 federal counts including racketeering, bribery and tax evasion.
“From what I’ve seen, it was a way of doing business in the Kilpatrick administration: ‘City contracts are an opportunity for us to make money,'” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade told NPR.
Several weeks ago, in a speech before the Detroit chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, Kilpatrick said he was looking forward to the trial as a chance to clear his name.
“So many people in Detroit say ‘Kwame stole money.’ Ha. I have never stole a damn dime in my life from anybody. And I’m not even charged with that oddly. You know, that just became kind of like community folklore ’cause if you hear every day somebody’s a criminal, crook, thug, you kinda just go with it,” he said.
Openings statements in the trial are scheduled for Thursday.