A federal judge on Thursday sentenced Kwame M. Kilpatrick, the former mayor of this beleaguered city, to 28 years in prison for widespread corruption that prosecutors say deepened the city’s financial crisis.
“At the very least, a significant sentence will send a message that this kind of conduct will not be tolerated,” said Judge Nancy G. Edmunds of United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, before she read the sentence.
The punishment, which matched what prosecutors had sought, ranks among the strictest in such major state and local public corruption cases.
Mr. Kilpatrick, 43, was convicted of two dozen counts in March that included charges of racketeering and extortion, adding his name to a list of at least 18 city officials who have been convicted of corruption during his tenure as mayor.
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His sentencing comes at a sobering moment for the city he once led, which is now remaking itself in bankruptcy court as residents wrestle over whom to blame for the fiscal mess. For Detroiters, Mr. Kilpatrick’s meteoric fall — from potential savior of a struggling city to prison-bound symbol of financial mismanagement — may be the closest they will get to holding past leaders accountable for decades of disappointment and poor fiscal decisions.
“He’s become the poster child of what went wrong with the city and why it went bankrupt,” said Adolph Mongo, a political consultant who worked for Mr. Kilpatrick’s re-election campaign. Yet he said it was unfair to pin the city’s problems on any single elected leader.
“It was a house of cards,” Mr. Mongo said of Detroit’s fiscal health. “Kilpatrick was the last card. He fell and it knocked everything down.”
Or, as prosecutors recently wrote in court documents: “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. But his corrupt administration exacerbated the crisis.”
Mr. Kilpatrick’s lawyers, who were pushing for a sentence of no more than 15 years, emphasized to the judge Mr. Kilpatrick’s achievements as mayor and argued that he had been unfairly targeted as a scapegoat for the city’s insolvency. They have 14 days to file an appeal of the sentence.
But Mr. Kilpatrick, once known for his gregarious personality, spoke softy as he pleaded with the court for a lesser sentence on Thursday and apologized to any residents in the economically fragile city that he may have let down.
“They’re hurting,” he said, adding, “A great deal of that hurt I accept full responsibility for.”
Joseph Harris, a former auditor general for the city during Mr. Kilpatrick’s first term, said that the former mayor was just one in a string of leaders who failed to fully address the crisis of a shrinking tax base amid growing employee health care and pension costs.
Mr. Kilpatrick also increased the city’s debt obligations to fill budget gaps while he was in office. A $1.44 billion borrowing deal he brokered in 2005 to restructure the city’s pension liabilities, though applauded by many at the time, added to the city’s estimated $18 billion in long-term liabilities.