Kwame Kilpatrick’s prison sentence commuted by Trump -- here’s what to know

Kilpatrick was serving 28-year sentence for corruption

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick will be released from prison after serving seven years of a 28-year sentence for his role in a major corruption scandal after President Donald Trump commuted his sentence late Tuesday night.

DETROIT – Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick will be released from prison after serving seven years of a 28-year sentence for his role in a major corruption scandal after President Donald Trump commuted his sentence late Tuesday night.

Quick facts:

  • Kilpatrick is seven years into a 28-year sentence to federal prison for racketeering and bribery.
  • He was sentenced to federal prison in 2013 after being convicted of a long list of charges. He has been fighting his sentence ever since.
  • The former Detroit mayor’s family and allies had been fighting for his release, specifically this past year due to health concerns amid the pandemic.
  • Trump finally issued the commutation the day before he left the White House. A commutation simply reduces the sentence of a prisoner, whereas a pardon wipes away the crime.

It was Trump’s final night in the White House before he leaves Wednesday to make way for President-elect Joe Biden and his new administration.

Here’s the statement from the White House:

“President Trump commuted the sentence of the former Mayor of Detroit, Kwame Malik Kilpatrick. This commutation is strongly supported by prominent members of the Detroit community, Alveda King, Alice Johnson, Diamond and Silk, Pastor Paula White, Peter Karmanos, Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo of the Michigan House of Representatives, Rep. Karen Whitsett of the Michigan House of Representatives, and more than 30 faith leaders. Mr. Kilpatrick has served approximately 7 years in prison for his role in a racketeering and bribery scheme while he held public office. During his incarceration, Mr. Kilpatrick has taught public speaking classes and has led Bible Study groups with his fellow inmates.”

Trump White House

Michigan State Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-9th District) said she spoke with Trump on the phone and had known for days that the commutation was coming.

“I knew that this was coming. The last conversation that we had is that he told me it was on his desk to be signed,” said Whitsett. “The former mayor had an unjust sentence, and that he served enough time, and that I am happy for his family that he has them now, and that he’s able to spend time with his family now, where he should be.”

A commutation simply reduces the sentence of a prisoner, whereas a pardon wipes away the crime.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider was definitely not in support of a shortened sentence or pardon for Kilpatrick.

“My position on the disgraced former Mayor of Detroit has not changed. Kwame Kilpatrick has earned every day he served in federal prison for the horrible crimes he committed against the People of Detroit. He is a notorious and unrepentant criminal,” reads a statement from Schneider. “He remains convicted of 24 felonies. Kilpatrick has served only one quarter of the sentence that was very appropriately imposed. Thankfully, under Michigan law, he cannot hold state or local public office for 20 years after his conviction.”

The push for Kilpatrick’s release

As of Sunday night, Kilpatrick’s release date was still listed for January 18, 2037 on the Bureau of Prison inmate directory. Earlier this year, Kilpatrick’s family believed he would be released for COVID-19 concerns, but the request was denied by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

In October of 2020, Kilpatrick’s sister, Ayanna, said she expected the release to happen, but it never happened then.

“Due to suffering severe health challenges we expect Kwame Kilpatrick to receive a grant for COVID-19 compassionate release from the FBOP this week,” Ayanna Kilpatrick tweeted at the time.

Kilpatrick, 50, is currently serving a 28-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale, Louisiana. He was sentenced to federal prison in 2013 after being convicted of racketeering, mail fraud, and wire fraud, among other charges. He has been fighting his sentence ever since.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals had denied his original appeal of his conviction and sentence. He filed another motion in 2017 to vacate his prison sentence, and that was denied by a district court judge.

In 2019, he was denied again by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2018, Kilpatrick wrote a letter to President Donald Trump, asking for his sentence to be commuted.

Read back: 7 years ago: Kwame Kilpatrick is convicted on 24 federal felony counts

In January 2020, billionaire Peter Karmanos, a long time friend of Kilpatrick, said he was working to get the ex-mayor a presidential pardon. Karmanos spoke on Charlie LeDuff’s podcast, implying that Kilpatrick was a victim of a political conspiracy and that he will use his influence with President Donald Trump to get him freed from prison.

In February 2020, Detroit State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo attended the national African American History celebration at the White House after discussions with President Trump’s team on the Kilpatrick issue. Gay-Dagnogo brought a letter signed by politicians and pastors across the state requesting commutation of sentence.

In May, despite belief from his family that he would be released, Kilpatrick’s request for early release due to COVID-19 was rejected by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Kilpatrick served as mayor of Detroit from 2002 to 2008. He resigned in 2008 following the corruption scandal. Before serving as mayor, Kilpatrick served in the Michigan State House of Representative.

More: Kwame Kilpatrick section

Trump pardons ex-strategist Steve Bannon, dozens of others (AP):

Trump pardoned former chief strategist Steve Bannon as part of a flurry of clemency action in the final hours of his White House term that benefited more than 140 people, including rap performers, ex-members of Congress and other allies of him and his family.

The last-minute clemency, announced Wednesday morning, follows separate waves of pardons over the past month for Trump associates convicted in the FBI’s Russia investigation as well as for the father of his son-in-law. Taken together, the actions underscore the president’s willingness, all the way through his four years in the White House, to flex his constitutional powers in ways that defy convention and explicitly aid his friends and supporters.

To be sure, the latest list was heavily populated by more conventional candidates whose cases had been championed by criminal justice activists. One man who has spent nearly 24 years in prison on drug and weapons charges but had shown exemplary behavior behind bars had his sentence commuted, as did a former Marine sentenced in 2000 in connection with a cocaine conviction.

But the names of prominent Trump allies nonetheless stood out.

Besides Bannon, other pardon recipients included Elliott Broidy, a Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty last fall in a scheme to lobby the Trump administration to drop an investigation into the looting of a Malaysian wealth fund, and Ken Kurson, a friend of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who was charged last October with cyberstalking during a heated divorce.

Bannon’s pardon was especially notable given that the prosecution was still in its early stages and any trial was months away. Whereas pardon recipients are conventionally thought of as defendants who have faced justice, often by having served at least some prison time, the pardon nullifies the prosecution and effectively eliminates any prospect for punishment.

“Steve Bannon is getting a pardon from Trump after defrauding Trump’s own supporters into paying for a wall that Trump promised Mexico would pay for,” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on Twitter. “And if that all sounds crazy, that’s because it is. Thank God we have only 12 more hours of this den of thieves.”

And while other presidents have issued controversial pardons at the ends of their administration, perhaps no commander in chief has so enjoyed using the clemency authority to benefit not only friends and acquaintances but also celebrity defendants and those championed by allies.

Wednesday’s list includes its share of high-profile defendants. Among them were rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, both convicted in Florida on weapons charges. Wayne, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter, has frequently expressed support for Trump and recently met with the president on criminal justice issues. Others on the list included Death Row Records co-founder Michael Harris and New York art dealer and collector Hillel Nahmad.

Other pardon recipients include former Rep. Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican who served three years for corruption, money laundering and other charges, and former Rep. Duke Cunningham of California, who was convicted of accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors. Cunningham, who was released from prison in 2013, received a conditional pardon.

Read more here.

About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.