EPISODE EIGHTEEN

United States v. Kwame Kilpatrick

Contractor Bobby Ferguson and then-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick at a demolition site in 2002, as part of the city’s Emergency Cleanup Initiative. The two men were later charged with bribery, extortion, and bid-rigging by the federal government as part of a sweeping RICO indictment.  Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

Contractor Bobby Ferguson and then-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick at a demolition site in 2002, as part of the city’s Emergency Cleanup Initiative. The two men were later charged with bribery, extortion, and bid-rigging by the federal government as part of a sweeping RICO indictment. Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

After a decade of scandals and a sprawling corruption investigation, Kwame Kilpatrick faces his most daunting challenge yet: a federal trial that could put him in prison for decades. The former mayor is no longer fighting for his political life or his marriage — now, he’s fighting for his freedom.

LISTEN TO EPISODE EIGHTEEN


Starting Small

Bernard Kilpatrick, left, and his son Kwame make their way to federal court in Detroit. They were both charged by the federal government with breaking a law originally enacted to go after mob bosses: the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.  Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

Bernard Kilpatrick, left, and his son Kwame make their way to federal court in Detroit. They were both charged by the federal government with breaking a law originally enacted to go after mob bosses: the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

They basically said City Hall was for sale. These are the people that sold it.
— Reporter Heather Catallo
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The federal prosecutors began the trial by presenting small frauds conducted through the Kilpatrick Civic Fund, a charity that Kwame Kilpatrick had established to do neighborhood improvement work. These checks, made out to a yoga center and signed by then-chief of staff Christine Beatty, were among the exhibits used to show that the mayor was using the charity funds for personal use. Courtesy of Mark Chutkow.

Everyone in the courtroom burst out laughing. Everyone except Kwame Kilpatrick.
— FBI Special Agent Bob Beeckman

The friend of the Mayor

Contractor Bobby Ferguson makes his way into Federal Court in Detroit. Ferguson met Kwame Kilpatrick several years before Kilpatrick was elected mayor and the two became friends. Ferguson was also charged in the RICO indictment, which alleged that he used his friendship with the mayor to rig city contract bids in his favor.  Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

Contractor Bobby Ferguson makes his way into Federal Court in Detroit. Ferguson met Kwame Kilpatrick several years before Kilpatrick was elected mayor and the two became friends. Ferguson was also charged in the RICO indictment, which alleged that he used his friendship with the mayor to rig city contract bids in his favor. Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

DeDan Milton, Kwame Kilpatrick’s friend and aide, makes his way into Ferguson Enterprises in Detroit in 2009. Milton says that he, Kilpatrick, and Ferguson would go on expensive island vacations, where Ferguson would give Kilpatrick cash.  Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

DeDan Milton, Kwame Kilpatrick’s friend and aide, makes his way into Ferguson Enterprises in Detroit in 2009. Milton says that he, Kilpatrick, and Ferguson would go on expensive island vacations, where Ferguson would give Kilpatrick cash. Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

These guys weren’t there to promote minority business enterprises. These guys were there to promote themselves.
— Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow
FBI Special Agent Bob Beeckman and another agent head into Ferguson Enterprises in Detroit in 2009 to conduct a search of the offices.  Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

FBI Special Agent Bob Beeckman and another agent head into Ferguson Enterprises in Detroit in 2009 to conduct a search of the offices. Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

Even though he was not a city employee, Bobby Ferguson had his own Mayor’s Office identification badge, which granted him access to the Mayor’s Office.  Courtesy of Mark Chutkow.

Even though he was not a city employee, Bobby Ferguson had his own Mayor’s Office identification badge, which granted him access to the Mayor’s Office. Courtesy of Mark Chutkow.


THE TExt messages RETURN

Text messages between Kwame Kilpatrick and Bobby Ferguson were a central part of the government’s case. They showed Kilpatrick and Ferguson joking about the misfortune of contractors who were frozen out of city work.  Courtesy of Mark Chutkow.

Text messages between Kwame Kilpatrick and Bobby Ferguson were a central part of the government’s case. They showed Kilpatrick and Ferguson joking about the misfortune of contractors who were frozen out of city work. Courtesy of Mark Chutkow.

We called the text messages, basically, a crime scene frozen in time.
— Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow
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Follow the Money

DeDan Milton, right, a former aide to Kwame Kilpatrick, leaves court with his lawyer. He testified in the federal trial after pleading guilty to bribery.  Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

DeDan Milton, right, a former aide to Kwame Kilpatrick, leaves court with his lawyer. He testified in the federal trial after pleading guilty to bribery. Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

Bobby would give him money, and, you know, his father would give him money, whatever the case may be.
— Dedan Milton
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Federal investigators found this safe filled with cash hidden behind a wall panel in a bathroom in Bobby Ferguson’s office. They discovered that Ferguson withdrew millions in cash from his company, and alleged that he used it to make payments to Kwame Kilpatrick.  Courtesy of Mark Chutkow.

Federal investigators found this safe filled with cash hidden behind a wall panel in a bathroom in Bobby Ferguson’s office. They discovered that Ferguson withdrew millions in cash from his company, and alleged that he used it to make payments to Kwame Kilpatrick. Courtesy of Mark Chutkow.

You do some stupid things and it may be on the line of being unethical. But it’s not illegal. And if there was an unethical prison, I should be there.
— Kwame Kilpatrick

THE VERDICT

Kwame Kilpatrick and Bobby Ferguson outside of the federal courthouse. The jury handed down numerous guilty verdicts for both men. Kilpatrick was found guilty on 24 of 30 counts, and was later sentenced to 28 years in prison. Ferguson was found guilty on nine of 11 counts, and was sentenced to 21 years in prison.  Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

Kwame Kilpatrick and Bobby Ferguson outside of the federal courthouse. The jury handed down numerous guilty verdicts for both men. Kilpatrick was found guilty on 24 of 30 counts, and was later sentenced to 28 years in prison. Ferguson was found guilty on nine of 11 counts, and was sentenced to 21 years in prison. Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

Bernard Kilpatrick arrives at the federal courthouse in Detroit with his lawyer. Bernard was found guilty on only one of his four counts, and was ultimately sentenced to just 15 months in prison.  Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

Bernard Kilpatrick arrives at the federal courthouse in Detroit with his lawyer. Bernard was found guilty on only one of his four counts, and was ultimately sentenced to just 15 months in prison. Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

As much as I hated that man at times, I was like, ‘Oh my God. This guy’s going away for a really long time.’ I just felt bad for his kids.
— Reporter Heather Catallo
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I stand on the fact that those things that I was charged with in that courtroom, I am not guilty of.
— Kwame Kilpatrick

EPISODE CREDITS

Crimetown is Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier. This season is made in partnership with Gimlet Media and Spotify. This episode was produced by Soraya Shockley, John White, Rob Szypko, and Samantha Lee. The senior producer is Drew Nelles. Editing by Zac Stuart-Pontier and Marc Smerling. Fact-checking by Jennifer Blackman. This episode was mixed, sound-designed, and scored by Kenny Kusiak. Original music this season composed by Homer Steinweiss. We recorded some original music at Rustbelt Studios in Detroit in partnership with Detroit Sound Conservancy. Special thanks to Carleton Gholz and Maurice “Pirahnahead” Herd. Additional music by John Kusiak, Kenny Kusiak, and Jon Ivans. Additional mixing by Bobby Lord. Our theme song is “Politicians In My Eyes” by Death.

Our credit music this week is “This is My Home, This is Detroit” performed by the Blue Pigs, courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society. Archival research by Brennan Rees. Some of the audio in this episode appears courtesy of Tim and Tobias Smith, and their film KMK: A Documentary of Kwame Kilpatrick. Additional archival material courtesy of WXYZ. Show art and design by James Cabrera and Elise Harven. Thanks to the Detroit Free Press, Peter Bhatia, Jim Schaefer, Mary Schroeder, Melanie Maxwell, Max White, Randy Lundquist, Brendan Roney, Larry Mongo, Allie Delyanis and everyone who shared their stories with us. Detroit’s an amazing place, and we’re honored to tell a small part of its story.