EXPLAINER: Kwame Kilpatrick sentence commuted as Trump leaves office

What you need to know about the former Detroit mayor whose sentence was commuted by Trump.
Published: Jan. 20, 2021 at 1:14 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Overnight, out-going president Donald Trump granted clemency to 143 people including Steve Bannon, Lil Wayne, and New York art dealer and collector Hillel Nahmad.

One name that had been mentioned in recent years was former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

In February 2020, State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo was invited by President Trump to a Black History Month event at the White House. There, she delivered a letter “Signed by several Detroit caucus members, elected officials, and ecumenical leaders” requesting Kilpatrick’s clemency. The commutation allowed Kilpatrick to gain release 20 years early, although it did not vacate his conviction.

Background and election as Mayor of Detroit

Kilpatrick was an all-city football player at and graduated from Detroit’s Cass Technical High School before attending Florida A&M University. Prior to his term as the 72nd Mayor of Detroit, Kilpatrick served as a Democratic state senator from 1997 to 2002.

In 1998, Kilpatrick was elected minority floor leader for the Michigan Democratic Party, a position he held until 2000. He was subsequently elected house minority leader in 2001, the first African-American to hold that position.

At age 31, Kilpatrick ran for mayor of Detroit in 2001. He became the youngest mayor of Detroit, a role he held for two terms from 2002 to 2008.

During his first term, Kilpatrick was denounced for misuse of funds, including:

  • Using city funds to lease a Lincoln Navigator for his family to use
  • Using a city-issued credit card to pay for thousands of dollars’ worth of spa services, expensive dining, and wines.
  • He also closed the century-old Belle Isle Zoo and Belle Isle Aquarium during this time, citing the city’s budget problems. The Detroit City Council overrode his funding veto for the zoo, awarding it a budget of $700,000.

Kilpatrick defeated Freman Hendrix and won reelection on Nov. 8, 2005. During his second term, Detroit faced audits, including one that would cost $2.4 million. Both the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 audits were over a year late.


In the fall of 2002, it was alleged that Kilpatrick had held a wild party at the Manoogian Mansion, the city-owned residence for the mayor of Detroit.

  • During this party, it is alleged that Carlita Kilpatrick, Kwame’s wife, came home unexpectedly and physically attacked an exotic dancer.
  • An investigation by Michigan Attorney General Cox and the Michigan State Police found no evidence that the party took place, although the State Police investigation was cut short.

Tamara Greene, a 27-year-old exotic dancer, purportedly performed at the Manoogian Mansion party and was supposedly the person assaulted by Carlita Kilpatrick.

  • On Apr. 30, 2003, Greene was murdered near the intersection of Roselawn and West Outer Drive while sitting in her car with her 32-year-old boyfriend.
  • Greene was shot multiple times with a .40 caliber Glock pistol, which was the same model and caliber firearm as those officially issued by the Detroit Police Department at the time. Investigators believed the murder to be a “deliberate hit” by a member of the Detroit Police.

Legal Issues, Resignation, and Sentencings

Kilpatrick was involved in multiple lawsuits including a civil lawsuit filed against Kilpatrick by ex-bodyguard Harold Nelthrope and former Deputy Police Chief Gary Brown in 2003. Officers claimed they were fired due to an internal probe into the mayor’s personal actions and that the firing was a violation of the whistleblower law.

  • The trial began in August 2007 with Kilpatrick and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty, both denying they were involved in an extramarital affair. Kilpatrick expressed anger about claims of an affair between him and Beatty.

In 2005, Kilpatrick was named in a slander lawsuit along with Christine Beatty and then-police chief Ella Bully-Cummings. The lawsuit was brought by two police officers who claimed to have been slandered in the media by city officials.

The Wayne County Election Committee approved a recall petition to remove Kilpatrick as mayor based on the multimillion-dollar settlement in a whistle-blower lawsuit against Detroit and the accusation that Kilpatrick misled the City Council into approving the settlement.

On March 24, 2008, Kilpatrick was charged with eight felony counts, including perjury, misconduct in office, and obstruction of justice. On May 13, 2008, the Detroit City Council approved a resolution to request that Gov. Jennifer Granholm, remove Kilpatrick from office.

  • On August 8, 2008, Michigan’s Attorney General Mike Cox announced two additional felony counts had been filed against Kilpatrick for assaulting and interfering with a law officer.

Kilpatrick resigned in September 2008 following a corruption scandal and was sentenced to 28 years in prison in 2013 for racketeering, mail fraud, and wire fraud, among other charges. He was released on probation after serving 99 days.

On May 25, 2010, Kilpatrick was sentenced to eighteen months to five years in state prison for violating his probation and served time at the Oaks Correctional Facility in northwest Michigan. On March 11, 2013, he was convicted on 24 federal felony counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud, and racketeering.

On June 23, 2010, Kilpatrick was indicted on 19 federal counts including 10 counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, five counts of filing a false tax return, and one count of tax evasion. Then, on Dec. 14 of the same year, Kilpatrick was indicted on 28 charges of corruption including bribery, extortion, and fraud, and kickbacks of nearly $1 million stemming from 13 fraudulent schemes in awarding contracts in the city’s Department of Water and Sewerage.

On March 11, 2013, a jury found Kilpatrick guilty on two dozen counts including those for racketeering, extortion, mail fraud, and tax evasion among others. On October of that year Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison. Kilpatrick served his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution, Oakdale, in Oakdale, Louisiana.

In August 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld his convictions while ordering the amount of restitution Kilpatrick owed be recalculated. The U.S. Supreme Court then denied his appeal in June 2016.

Kilpatrick began seeking a pardon from President Trump in June 2018, an application that was opposed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of southeast Michigan. With less than 12 hours remaining in his term as president, Trump granted Kilpatrick clemency, allowing him to gain release 20 years early. The clemency does not vacate his conviction.

Under Article 11, Section 8 of the Michigan constitution, Kilpatrick is unable to run for public office until 2033. The law prevents anyone convicted of a felony from holding state or local office for 20 years from conviction. Kilpatrick has an additional 13 years of those 20 to go before running for office.

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