David Ashenfelter, Joe Swickard and Zachary Gorchow, Detroit Free Press, March 24, 2008
UPDATED AT 2:10 P.M.: Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy charged Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former chief of staff Christine Beatty today with perjury, obstruction, conspiracy and misconduct. Kilpatrick said that he expects “full and complete vindication.”
The mayor spoke two hours after Worthy announced to a packed news conference that she is charging Kilpatrick with eight felonies and Beatty with seven.
Kilpatrick, reading from a prepared statement at a press conference, said he is “deeply disappointed,” but not surprised by Worthy’s decision.
“This has been a very flawed process from the beginning,” he said. “I look forward to complete exoneration once all the facts in this matter have been brought forth.”
[The mayor’s attorney, Dan Webb.] said he is not being paid by taxpayer dollars, but refused to say from what account Kilpatrick is paying him.
Worthy said the perjury charges accuse the two of lying during a whistle-blower lawsuit about the firing of Deputy Police Chief Gary Brown and about their romantic relationship.
Kilpatrick, 38, serving his seventh year in office, is the first Detroit mayor to face criminal charges while still in office. The perjury charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
Shortly after Worthy’s announcement, Kilpatrick appointees streamed into the mayor’s suite on the 11th floor of city hall to meet with Kilpatrick.
The meeting appeared to be brief, and appointees walked out while dozens of reporters and photographers waited to be admitted to the mayor’s recently redecorated main conference room.
One of the appointees, John Prymack, who runs Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Authority, said Kilpatrick’s message was simple: “Do your job, just do your job,” Prymack quoted the mayor as saying. “Focus on your job.”
During her news conference, Worthy said city lawyers had tried to erect barriers to her investigation, forcing prosecutors to go to court to try to obtain documents. She said investigators are still trying to obtain documents for the investigation, which will continue.
“At every bend and turn, there have been attempts by the city through one lawyer or another to block aspects of our investigation,” Worthy said. “Some documents have been turned over, but we have been told that others have been destroyed or lost. We don’t know when or by whom.”
She said the investigation wasn’t about sex, but about destroying the lives and careers of three good cops.
She added: “Our investigation has clearly shown that public dollars were used, people’s lives were ruined, the justice system severely mocked and the public trust trampled on.”
Worthy’s investigation began after the Free Press uncovered text messages that showed a romantic relationship between Kilpatrick and Beatty—a relationship both had denied under oath during the police whistle-blower lawsuit last summer. The pair also gave misleading testimony about the firing of Brown, the messages show.
Despite the false testimony, a Wayne County Circuit Court jury last September awarded Brown and Nelthrope $6.5 million in damages. Kilpatrick vowed to appeal, but on Oct. 17, abruptly decided to settle the case and a second police whistle-blower suit involving former mayoral bodyguard Walt Harris for $8.4 million—$9 million with legal costs.
Kilpatrick settled after the cops’ lawyer, Mike Stefani, informed the mayor’s lawyer that he had the incriminating text messages and would reveal them in court papers he planned to file to justify his request for legal fees in the whistle-blower case.
Wayne County Circuit Judge Robert Colombo Jr. released the secret agreement last month after the Kilpatrick administration repeatedly denied its existence. Colombo released the agreement and other secret settlement records after the administration appealed unsuccessfully to the Michigan Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court, which rejected Kilpatrick’s claim that the documents weren’t public documents.
The City Council, which was kept in the dark about Kilpatrick’s reasons for settling the lawsuit and never saw the confidential side agreement, voted 7-1 last week to pass an advisory resolution calling for the mayor to resign. It also ordered an investigation of the episode and directed its auditor general to look into spending by the mayor’s office and the city Law Department.
Kilpatrick insisted during his televised apology that there was no cover-up. He accused the Free Press of illegally obtaining the text messages—which the newspaper denies—and accusing the media of conducting a public lynching. He said the text messages and the settlement agreement that concealed them should never have been made public.
He also said the text messages were private even though he signed a policy directive in June 2000 advising city employees that all electronic communications should be considered public.
So far, Kilpatrick has refused to step down, saying he is on a divinely inspired mission to help rebuild the city. But conviction of a felony would force him to resign.
He has been beset by repeated controversies over extravagant spending with his city-issued credit card, lying publicly about ordering the police department to lease a Lincoln Navigator for his wife and battening down information hatches at City Hall, making it more difficult for reporters and the public to inquire about his activities.
Besides criminal charges, the text messaging scandal and how city-paid lawyers responded to it could result in professional misconduct charges from the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission.
If Kilpatrick is bound over for trial, Webb said he would ask the trial judge to keep the text messages out of evidence. He said federal law prohibited SkyTel from ever releasing the messages in the whistle-blower suit. Webb also said no taxpayer funds would be used to pay his attorney fee.
[Editor’s Note: An earlier story about Mayor Kilpatrick can be read here.]