DETROIT – Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick looks likely to receive an early compassionate release from prison because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but so far, no definitive decision has been reached by the Department of Justice.
Kilpatrick’s family had lobbied President Donald Trump for a commutation of his sentence, but now they are attempting a compassionate release because of COVID-19.
Other federal prisoners, such as Paul Manafort, have been released from their sentences because of the pandemic.
Federal officials are considering letting Kilpatrick out, and he has been moved into the pipeline that would allow that to happen.
Reports started surfacing Thursday night that a Kilpatrick release from federal prison was imminent, not the original commutation of the sentence from Trump.
Multiple sources close to the Kilpatrick family have confirmed that the Department of Justice was on board with considering a compassionate release.
Sources said Kilpatrick had been placed in a 21-day quarantine in preparation for release, and the family was hopeful that he would get out June 10.
On Friday morning, an email was sent out from the Ebony Foundation, congratulating Kilpatrick on his release from federal prison. It doesn’t mention how the foundation knows that the release has been granted.
To be clear, there is no indication from the Department of Justice that it has signed off on Kilpatrick’s release, nor that all the details have been worked out.
But the process for a compassionate release is in the works and appears probable.
There are various standards Kilpatrick has to meet in order to be let go, and one is whether he has served at least a quarter of his total sentence. Kilpatrick meets that standard.
If Kilpatrick is given a compassionate release, he would go through a period of home confinement, and then supervised release.
In order to be granted a compassionate release, there’s usually an underlying medical issue that would make the prisoner more susceptible to the coronavirus. The argument for Kilpatrick is that he’s asthmatic and pre-diabetic, and that he’s been in close contact with prisoners who have died from COVID-19.
Currently, Kilpatrick is an inmate at the Oakdale FCI low-security prison in Louisiana. His sentence is scheduled to end Jan. 18, 2037.
Kilpatrick served as mayor of Detroit from 2002 to 2008. He resigned in 2008 following a corruption scandal.
Kilpatrick was ordered on Dec. 17, 2013 to pay $4,584,423 in restitution. That number was later lowered to $1,520,653.50 but eventually set at $1,637,087. In 2018, Kilpatrick told the court that he didn’t believe that he should have to pay the restitution because it’s impossible to calculate the amount of money he took from taxpayers.
Asking for freedom
In 2018, Kilpatrick wrote a letter to President Donald Trump, asking for his sentence to be commuted.
“I pray that I will receive the opportunity for pardon/clemency from the President of the United States as well,” Kilpatrick wrote.
At the time of his blog post, Kilpatrick had just been moved to a prison in Philadelphia. He wrote that he had been “punished severely."
"I have been chained like a wild animal, shackled around my ankles, waist and wrist.”
He said he was mentally, emotionally and spiritually ready to go home.
"My family has forgiven me," Kilpatrick wrote. "I have asked the people of the city of Detroit for forgiveness many times, and most Detroiters have forgiven me, as well."
He was eventually moved to a low-security federal prison in New Jersey, and then again to Oakdale FCI.
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.
“None of us are arguing he’s innocent,” Gay-Dagnogo said. “If that was the case we’d be asking for a pardon, we’re not, we realize during his leadership he did some things that were wrong and impacted the city negatively and pretty much scarred us for a very long time. But we also realize this is an act of mercy and a second chance.”
Before the federal corruption charges and trial ever started, Kilpatrick quit office in 2008 because of a different scandal involving sexually explicit text messages and an extramarital affair. He ended up pleading guilty to perjury.
Kilpatrick was forced out of office while the auto industry was nearing collapse and Detroit’s unstable finances were deteriorating even more.
The city was then run by a state-appointed emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, who took Detroit into Chapter 9 bankruptcy as a last-ditch effort to fix billions of dollars of debt. The city emerged from bankruptcy in 2014.
“Kilpatrick is not the main culprit of the city’s historic bankruptcy, which is the result of larger social and economic forces at work for decades," federal prosecutors said. “But his corrupt administration exacerbated the crisis.”
His defense team asked the court to give some credit to Kilpatrick for the 2006 Super Bowl and 2005 MLB All-Star Game in Detroit, as well as 75 new Downtown Detroit businesses.
Agents who pored over bank accounts and credit cards said Kilpatrick spent $840,000 beyond his salary during his time as mayor. His trial attorney, James Thomas, tried to portray the money as generous gifts from political supporters who opened their wallets for birthdays or holidays.