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Free Kilpatrick should start new life elsewhere

Seven years in prison might be considered adequate punishment for a public corruption conviction. That’s what former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick served before his sentence was commuted Wednesday by President Donald Trump in his last hours in office.

Losing that much of your life, and spending so much time away from your family, is hardly a wrist-slap.

Still, there’s a sense that once again Kilpatrick, a lifelong con man, has gamed the system and avoided full accountability for his deeds.

Kilpatrick, 50, leaves his federal cell 21 years early without having admitted to the crimes for which he was convicted; without expressing regret for anything other than that he was imprisoned; and without accounting for the money he stole from the taxpayers of Detroit.

All of those factors, and that Kilpatrick did not cooperate with federal prosecutors during the corruption probe, contributed to his unusually long sentence of 28 years. It tied the longest term ever handed down by a federal judge for a similar charge.

Kilpatrick was found guilty of skimming millions of dollars from city contracts in a scheme that involved his longtime friend, Bobby Ferguson, who was given a 21-year sentence. Trump did not commute Ferguson’s sentence, so he remains locked up while his partner in crime walks free.

The former mayor, who was elected in 2002 and served until he was charged in 2008, passed on a plea deal that would have offered him a much shorter sentence in return for a confession and restoration of the stolen money.

With the pardon, Kilpatrick in effect gets the lesser sentence that would have come with the plea deal, without having to meet the conditions of the proffered bargain.

Investigators who worked on the case believe the former mayor and Ferguson stole as much as $75 million, and still have millions hidden that Kilpatrick quite possibly still can access.

He still has not paid more than $11 million in fines and restitution to various entities. It’s unlikely those expecting payment will ever see that money.

Those who view Kilpatrick as a victim, targeted by the federal government because he was a powerful, young Black man should remember the damage Kilpatrick did to the city and those around him.

A generation of promising young leaders who might have served the community into the future was wiped out, with many in the Kilpatrick circle also going to jail.

Kilpatrick’s self-dealing contributed to Detroit’s fall into bankruptcy, which led to city workers losing hard-earned pay, benefits and pensions.

He was a scourge on the city of Detroit. And while Mayor Mike Duggan had curious praise Wednesday for a man who did so much harm, there’s no place for him here.

Kilpatrick says his life is changed by his jail time and renewed faith, and we hope that’s true. Living an honest, productive life in the service of others would be tangible evidence of his redemption.

But welcoming him back to Detroit as a prodigal son would saddle the city with a constant reminder of that painful era, and a distraction to the ongoing good work to fulfill the promises Kilpatrick once made, promises he couldn’t keep because of his preoccupation with enriching himself.

— Detroit News

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