Monday , March 24, 2008
DETROIT —Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was charged with perjury and other offenses Monday — and got a stern lecture about the importance of telling the truth — after a trove of raunchy text messages contradicted his sworn denials of an affair with his chief aide.
The 37-year-old "Hip-Hop Mayor" who brought youth and vitality to the job in this struggling city of 900,000 could get up to 15 years in prison for perjury alone and would be automatically expelled from office if convicted.
Ignoring mounting demands that he step down, Kilpatrick said: "I look forward to complete exoneration once all the facts have been brought forth. I will remain focused on moving this city forward."
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy brought charges of perjury, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and misconduct against the popular but polarizing mayor. In announcing the charges, she delivered something of a civics lesson on the importance of telling the truth under oath.
"Some have suggested that the issues in this case are personal or private," said Worthy, a Democrat like the mayor. "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."
She added: "This case is about as far from being a private matter as one can get."
Kilpatrick's former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, 37, who also denied under oath that she and Kilpatrick had an intimate relationship in 2002 and 2003, was charged with many of the same offenses. A call to her lawyer was not immediately returned.
Both the mayor and Beatty turned themselves in for booking in the afternoon. No trial date has been set.
The mayor's lawyer, Dan Webb, said forcing Kilpatrick to resign now would punish him before he has had his day in court.
The charges could be the beginning of the end of Kilpatrick's six-year career as the youngest man elected mayor of Detroit, one of America's largest and most troubled cities, with deeply entrenched poverty made worse by the downturn in the auto industry.
Worthy began her investigation in late January, the day after the Detroit Free Press published excerpts from 14,000 text messages that were sent or received in 2002-03 from Beatty's city-issued pager.
The messages called into question testimony Kilpatrick and Beatty gave last August in a lawsuit filed by two police officers who said they were fired for investigating claims that the mayor used his security unit to cover up extramarital affairs.
In court, Kilpatrick and Beatty strongly denied having an intimate relationship. But the text messages reveal that they carried on a flirty, sometimes sexually explicit dialogue about where to meet and how to conceal their trysts.
Kilpatrick is married with three children. Beatty was married at the time and has two children.
The city eventually agreed to pay $8.4 million to the two officers and a third former officer. Some of the charges brought against the mayor on Monday accuse him of agreeing to the settlement in an effort to keep the text messages from becoming public.
"I'm madly in love with you," Kilpatrick wrote on Oct. 3, 2002.
"I hope you feel that way for a long time," Beatty replied. "In case you haven't noticed, I am madly in love with you, too!"
On Oct. 16, 2002, Kilpatrick wrote: "I've been dreaming all day about having you all to myself for 3 days. Relaxing, laughing, talking, sleeping and making love."
All of the charges against the mayor are felonies. Under the city charter, a felony conviction would mean the mayor's immediate expulsion.
In announcing the charges, Worthy delivered a 14-minute lecture on the oath that all the witnesses take, and how the criminal justice system relies on people to tell the truth. "Even children understand that lying is wrong," she said.
"If a witness lies, innocent people can go to jail or prison, people can literally get away with murder, civil litigants who deserve money may not get it or may get money they don't deserve," she said. "And lying cannot be tolerated even if a judge or jury sees through it."
The City Council asked Kilpatrick to step down last week, but he refused, and the council has no authority to remove him in the meantime.
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, has the power to remove local officials for misconduct, but spokeswoman Liz Boyd said Granholm believes "it's important the legal process be allowed to work," and doesn't plan to get involved at this point.
Council President Ken Cockrel Jr., who was among those who called on Kilpatrick to resign last week, would succeed him if he left office. "On a personal level, certainly it's a tragedy for him, although one could argue that he set himself up for it. The moves he made led to this," Cockrel said.
The mayor's attorney said he will ask a judge to prevent the text messages from being admitted as evidence. Federal law prohibits the text messages from being produced by the city's communications provider, SkyTel, Webb said.
"I am as certain as I stand here that the initial production of those text messages in fact were illegal under the law," Webb said. Webb is a former federal prosecutor who was the chief defense attorney in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who is now in prison.
Controversy has surrounded Kilpatrick since his 2001 election. Embraced by many Detroit residents for his boldness and confidence, Kilpatrick, then 31, embodied the new black politician and wore a diamond stud earring that helped earn him the unofficial title as the "Hip-Hop Mayor." His mother is Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich.
During his first four years, he caused a furor over his use of his city-issued credit card for expensive travel, the city's lease of a luxury Lincoln Navigator for his wife and unsubstantiated allegations of a wild party involving his security team and strippers at the mayor's mansion.
At the start of his second term, Kilpatrick vowed to not make the same mistakes and announced a residential redevelopment along Detroit's dormant riverfront, hosted a Super Bowl that shone a light on the city's renewal efforts and initiated other improvements. He had been expected to seek a third term in 2009.
"What we are witnessing is the 21st-century rerun of a classic Greek tragedy: fallen heroes, lost opportunities, unfulfilled promise," said Republican L. Brooks Patterson, county executive in neighboring Oakland County.