Kilpatrick, Beatty face felony charges 12-count indictment charges perjury, misconduct and obstruction
By DAVID ASHENFELTER and JOE SWICKARD • FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS • March 24, 2008
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former chief of staff Christine Beatty were charged today in a 12-count indictment with perjury, obstruction of justice, misconduct in office and conspiracy because of their conduct in last year’s police whistle-blower trial, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced.
Kilpatrick is charged with eight felonies and Beatty with seven. They are: perjury, conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and misconduct in office.
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.
"Lying cannot be tolerated, even if a judge and jury can see through it and doesn’t buy the line,” Worthy said at a packed news conference.
“Witnesses must give truthful testimony,” she added. “Oaths mean something.”
There was no immediate comment from lawyers for the mayor or Beatty. The two are expected to turn themselves in for arraignment no later than 7 a.m. Tuesday. Worthy declined to say whether she thinks the mayor should step down. Beatty resigned on Feb. 8.
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.
“Gary Brown’s, Harold Nelthrope's and Walter Harris’ lives and careers were forever changed,” Worthy said. “They were ruined financially and their reputations were completely destroyed because they chose to be dutiful police officers.”
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 said she had discussed the investigation with U.S. Attorney Stephen Murphy, but declined to say what they discussed. Murphy declined today to comment on Worthy’s statement. The FBI is monitoring the investigation, according to people familiar with the case.
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 a police whistle-blower lawsuit last summer. The pair also gave misleading testimony about the firing of Brown, the messages show.
Kilpatrick authorized a settlement in that case to pay the former officers $8.4 million.
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.
Although Kilpatrick apologized for his conduct in a televised appearance with his wife, Carlita, in late January, he has blamed the media for his troubles and rejected calls from the City Council, Attorney General Mike Cox and city union locals to resign.
Settlement documents the Free Press obtained last month through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the city show that – contrary to Kilpatrick’s claim that he decided to settle based on advice from friends, advisers and ordinary citizens – he made peace with the cops after discovering that Stefani had the text messages.
Although Kilpatrick’s lawyers settled the suit with one agreement on Oct. 17, they decided to split it into public and private settlements after the Free Press requested a copy.
The public agreement showed how much the former cops would be paid. The secret agreement, signed by Kilpatrick and Beatty, swore Brown, Nelthrope and Stefani to secrecy about the text messages under threat of forfeiting their settlement proceeds and legal fees.
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 went on television with his wife in late January and apologized for his conduct, he insists there was no cover-up and has blamed the news media for most of his problems. 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.
The scandal is the latest to confront Kilpatrick, a gifted politician who became the youngest mayor in Detroit history when he was elected in 2001 after serving in the state Legislature.
But his six-year tenure as mayor has been rocky.
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.
Defense lawyers are expected to attack the authenticity of the text messages, demanding that prosecutors prove Kilpatrick and Beatty sent them and that they had an affair.
Two previous Detroit mayors have been charged with felonies, both after leaving office.
Mayor Richard Reading, mayor in 1938-40, was sentenced to 4-1/2 to 5 years in prison after being charged with conspiring with 80 policemen to protect Detroit’s numbers racket. Mayor Louis Miriani, mayor from 1957-62, was sentenced to one year in prison for income tax evasion after leaving office.
Contact DAVID ASHENFELTER at firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writers Naomi Patton, Joe Swickard and Jim Schaefer contributed to this report.
While watching local news interviews, almost all of the Detroiters expressed a strong desire for Mayor Kilpatrick to either resign or take a leave of absence. Either way, almost nobody wants him to continue showing up to work. I emphatically agree.
This will not be an easy trial for Kym's prosecution. It will, however, be a necessary trial. This mayor, in the hearts of many, is a criminal. Innocent until proven guilty is the situation in court, and I grant this mayor and the chief of staff the opportunity to defend themselves. However, the street has already convicted them.
Kym's statements hinted at further charges upon others involved in the multiple crimes charged upon the mayor. I noted the US Attorney's involvement, as well as the FBI. The nation will not be hearing the end of this city's trouble for many months.
The mayor's chief council is Dan K. Webb, of Iran-Contra prosecution fame.
Right now, I'm listening to almost a carbon copy of the Dan's belief of a not-guilty verdict to come for the mayor, as linked here from his opinion on trouble surrounding President Clinton's friend, Vernon Jordan:
DAN WEBB, Former Iran-Contra Prosecutor: They are, and perjury is often a very difficult crime to prove. That's why I suspect here that this is probably going to end up to be much ado about nothing. I'd be very surprised if anyone's ever going to establish some day that someone with the reputation of Vernon Jordan or the President of the United States encouraged this woman to give a false affidavit. But we'll have to--let's take a deep breath and let's see what the facts are. But as a prosecutor for many years, perjury cases are difficult to make. Suborning perjury are even more difficult to make. Conversations are abstract; they're difficult to pin down; and certainly these recorded conversations between Miss Tripp and Miss Lewinsky are certainly not going to be any evidence as far as Vernon Jordan or President Clinton are concerned. And so we're a long ways away from seeing any evidence that would implicate those two gentlemen in any effort to obstruct justice or suborn perjury. But let's take a deep breath and let's see what the facts are.
Kym's fight just got a lot more difficult, in sum.