Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick faced 10 felony charges
Paul Sancya/AP
In this July 21, 2003 file photo, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, left, listens
as Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm addresses a news conference in Detroit.

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick Pleads Guilty, Resigns

September 04, 2008 11:37 AM
by Anne Szustek
Kilpatrick stepped down after entering a plea agreement on two felony obstruction of justice charges stemming from a scandal involving “steamy” text messages with his former top aide.

Kilpatrick Steps Down, Faces Jail Time

As of Thursday morning, Kwame Kilpatrick is no longer mayor of Detroit, having pleaded guilty to two of the 10 felony charges against him. Detroit City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. is to serve as mayor until a special election.

The plea bargain stipulates that the disgraced politician, already behind bars for violating a bond agreement by traveling to Canada, must serve 120 days in jail, pay as much as $1 million in restitution and remain on probation for five years. He is also being disbarred from legal practice, and is not permitted to run for public office for five years.

The felony counts to which he pleaded guilty were two of the eight charges issued in connection with the cover-up of a text message scandal revealing that he was having an extramarital affair with Christine Beatty, his former chief of staff.

Beatty herself is facing seven felony counts in connection with the scandal. Like Kilpatrick, she is charged with perjury, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and misconduct while in office.

The now-former Detroit mayor also pleaded no contest to one of two felony counts related to the alleged assault of a law enforcement officer.

As that story was breaking in January, investigators for the Free Press discovered that Kilpatrick allegedly orchestrated a deal to mislead the City Council into approving whistle-blower lawsuits against three Detroit police officers. He allegedly used the $8.4 million in settlement money for private use, including as hush money to hide his 14,000 romantic text messages to Beatty.

Kilpatrick told the court today, “I lied under oath in the case of Gary Brown and Harold Nelthrope versus the city of Detroit. … I did so with the intent to mislead the court and jury, to impede and obstruct the disposition of justice,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

County prosecutor Kym Worthy offered Kilpatrick a six-month jail term earlier in the week, according to the Free Press.

On Wednesday, Mich. Gov. Jennifer Granholm began a separate special hearing to determine whether Kilpatrick was fit for office. Thursday morning Granholm postponed the remainder of the hearing while awaiting the Kilpatrick plea agreement, and will presumably cancel it now that Kilpatrick has resigned.

Former Detroit Pistons basketball star Dave Bing has emerged as a front-runner for the upcoming mayoral special election, according to Detroit News columnist Daniel Howes.

See AP coverage

Background: Kilpatrick’s unraveling

Eight of Kilpatrick’s felony charges are related to some 14,000 text messages he apparently sent in 2002 and 2003 on a taxpayer-funded phone to his former chief of staff, as well as to allegedly tricking the Detroit City Council in supporting a lawsuit against three fired police officers, only to siphon the $8.4 million in settlement money for private gain.

During the summer of 2007, according to findings from an investigation conducted by the Detroit Free Press, the two of them allegedly lied on the trial stand during a “whistle-blower” trial when talking about the firing of Detroit Deputy Police Chief Gary Brown.

On Jan. 23, the newspaper printed extracts of the text messages, which revealed details suggesting Kilpatrick and Beatty had a sexual relationship, and that they had given false testimony during the trial.

After the story broke, Kilpatrick battled with the paper over a subsequent Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, with the case going up to the state’s Supreme Court. The proceedings revealed confidential information that showed the mayor and his Detroit-funded legal team put together a secret settlement of $8.4 million to hush up the three fired police officers about the text messages. Kilpatrick’s charges related to the scandal include perjury, obstruction of justice, and misconduct in office. Beatty herself faces seven felony charges. 

Around the time Kilpatrick’s text-messaging scandal first broke, his wife Carlita appeared at his side out of support.  “Yes, I am angry, I am hurt, and I am disappointed. But there is no question I love my husband,” she was quoted as saying in Newsweek.

In mid-March, The Detroit News likened Kilpatrick’s situation to the scandal surrounding former N.Y. Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s call girl for $4,300, suspecting the Detroit mayor, like Spitzer, was soon to resign from his post.

On Aug. 8, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox charged Kilpatrick with two more felony accounts, this time with assault, in connection with his alleged shoving of a police officer.  But those allegations were delivered to the disgraced mayor from behind bars.

Judge Ronald Giles ruled on Aug. 7 that Kilpatrick had violated the conditions of a bond agreement by traveling to Windsor, Ontario, in July, sending him to jail. Kilpatrick became the first mayor in Detroit’s 307-year history to become incarcerated while in office. Kilpatrick had shown up to court that day expecting to have a preliminary examination waived, paving the way to an expedited trial on the eight charges he was facing related to the text-messaging scandal.

Granholm then called a special hearing, which took place on Wednesday, to decide on whether or not Kilpatrick tricked the Detroit City Council into backing the lawsuit against the fired police officers.

A scantly used provision in Michigan’s constitution allows the state’s chief elected official to rule on the conduct of municipal officials. The last time a Michigan head of state even pondered using it was in 1982, when Gov. William Milliken was contemplating the ouster of a township official who consumed excessive amounts of alcohol.

The Detroit City Council voted in May to have Granholm execute her power to sack Kilpatrick.

The governor is the sole tribunal in removal proceedings, with no right of appeal or review afforded the accused. … If the governor acts within the law, the governor’s decision is final,” Granholm was quoted as writing by Detroit NBC affiliate WDIV.

Kilpatrick had fired two of the attorneys he had hired to defend him against the text-messaging scandal. Another, William Moffitt, filed a lawsuit on Aug. 27 against the mayor for $80,000 in apparently unpaid legal bills in Wayne County District Court, which has jurisdiction over Detroit. 

Kilpatrick legal team spokesperson Marcus Reese said early Aug. 28, “It’s unfortunate that Mr. Moffitt decided to air an administrative issue that is typically handled amongst attorneys, not in a public forum.

The Detroit Free Press has written that Kilpatrick was “once heralded as the bright future of the city that reared him.” But just before Giles sent him to jail, the mayor was begging for forgiveness. “It will never happen again,” Kilpatrick was quoted as saying in the Free Press. “My sons are watching this proceeding, because I asked them to. I told them that I did something wrong.”

Opinion & Analysis: Granholm and Kilpatrick: the ties that barely bind

Kilpatrick and Granholm, both Michigan Democrats, have maintained a tepid relationship during their time in office. Robert Ficano, an executive for Michigan’s Wayne County, told the AP, “Then they seem to have come together to work together. The relationship was professional. They both wanted to be able to obtain certain things for the success of both the city and the state.”

In March, when formal charges were filed against Kilpatrick, Granholm initially refused to invoke her right of executive order to push the mayor out of office. “It’s really important … that we allow the criminal justice system to take its course,” she told the Free Press.

Generally they make public appearances together when local professional sports teams win championships. But Granholm was absent during a June tickertape parade celebrating hockey team Detroit Red Wings’ Stanley Cup victory this spring.

Kilpatrick failed to endorse any political candidate during the 2002 gubernatorial primary. Given that they were in the same party and in prominent offices—the now governor was state attorney general at the time—Granholm’s campaign expected Kilpatrick’s official approval.

During that year’s general election, Republican candidate Dick Posthumus released a memo from Kilpatrick to Granholm suggesting that she populate state offices with applicants from Detroit in return for his campaigning for her. Kilpatrick said that he had written the memo, however did not send it, according to the AP. That political tug-of-war is believed by some Michigan political insiders to be their original source of tension.

Reference: Excerpts of Kilpatrick and Beatty’s text messages

Related Topic: Political career of Detroit mayor’s mother remains intact

Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., the mother of Kwame Kilpatrick, won a primary election challenge to her seat in August by a narrow margin. As her district leans heavily Democrat, she is expected to prevail in this November’s general election.

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