Great moments in lootership

Former mayor found guilty of wringing money from his failing city

History is replete with public leaders who turn out to be crooks, scofflaws and slime balls. Kwame Kilpatrick is easily among the most contemptible.

While mayor of Detroit, Kilpatrick could have, and should have, stayed up nights looking for ways to save his city from ruin. Instead, he let the city teeter toward collapse while he ran what amounts to a high-handed, ego-driven criminal enterprise out of the mayor’s office for his own enrichment and gratification.

Few leaders in human history have so fiddled their own tune while their cities burned. It is as if the captain of the Titanic had not only partied on the way down, but pilfered what he could from passengers along the way.

A jury this week found Kilpatrick guilty of 24 of 30 charges against him, including extortion and racketeering, involving schemes described as “shakedowns, kickbacks and bid-rigging.”

“Sitting on this trial for the last six months,” said one juror who had twice voted for Kilpatrick, “I really, really saw a lot that turned my stomach.”

Kilpatrick used intimidation to steer $84 million in contracts to a friend, who kicked back some of the proceeds to Kilpatrick – in effect stealing taxpayers blind. The mayor’s contractor friend was convicted of nine of 11 counts.

Kilpatrick also converted nonprofit funds and state grants to his own personal use.

“Both Kwame Kilpatrick and (the contractor friend) have felony records,” says a Michigan news report, “Kilpatrick for two obstruction of justice convictions in 2008 stemming from perjury charges; and (the contractor) for assault with intent to do great bodily harm for pistol whipping an employee in 2005.”

“Prosecutors,” says another news report, “described (the former mayor’s father) Bernard Kilpatrick as the middleman who contractors were forced to hire as a consultant in order to secure city contracts, some of which were for the biggest public work projects during Kilpatrick’s tenure, such as the demolition of Tiger Stadium and the partial demolition of the Book Cadillac Hotel.” Kilpatrick’s father was convicted of filing a false tax return.

Kilpatrick’s time in office was also marked by an affair and text-messaging scandal that resulted in the two perjury-related felony convictions. He later violated his probation.

All told, nearly three dozen people were arrested for corruption in connection with his administration.

“While he enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, he watched the quality of life erode for the people of Detroit,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said. “The mayor was not focused on running the city. He was focused on using the mayor’s office as a money-making machine. Kwame Kilpatrick didn’t lead the city. He looted the city.”

Now, the state of Michigan must try to rescue it from billions in debt and a legacy of open-sewer corruption.

Kwame Kilpatrick did much more than fiddle while Detroit burned; he actively helped run a major American city into the ground.

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