DETROIT (AP) — Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick pleaded poverty Tuesday and was granted a lawyer at public expense to defend him against charges that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars collected for a charity on himself and his family.
Kilpatrick waived a reading of the tax and fraud charges during his first court appearance since being indicted last month. A not-guilty plea was entered on his behalf.
“That is correct,” he replied when a judge said Kilpatrick apparently can’t afford to hire a lawyer.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald Scheer said the public would pick up the $125-an-hour tab. Kilpatrick’s longtime lawyer, James Thomas, is expected to stay on the case and another lawyer could come aboard. There’s a $9,700 cap for court-appointed lawyers, but it’s often waived in complex cases.
“This case has got a lot of history. I have a complete file cabinet full of materials,” Thomas said outside court. “I’ll get a chance to hit the ground running.”
Like most arraignments, this one lasted just a few minutes but the courtroom was full of reporters, courthouse employees and the curious. Kilpatrick sat on a bench with five other accused criminals waiting for their cases to be called.
An ally brought civilian clothes to the courthouse for Kilpatrick, but federal marshals, citing policy, refused to allow the ex-mayor to change out of his orange jail uniform.
Kilpatrick, 40, was indicted in June on fraud and tax crimes. The government accuses him of enriching himself and others by milking $640,000 from the Civic Fund, a tax-exempt charity that he created as a good-works effort to enhance Detroit and improve the city’s image.
Kilpatrick instead used it to pay for yoga, golf, camp for his kids, travel, a video about his family’s history, cars, polling, college tuition for relatives and much more, according to the indictment.
Kilpatrick resigned from office in September 2008 as part of a plea deal to settle criminal charges in an unrelated case in state court. He was sent to prison in May for 14 months to five years for violating probation in that case.
A Wayne County judge said Kilpatrick failed to report assets and turn over more money to further reduce his $1 million restitution to Detroit.
Kilpatrick will be in federal custody while he awaits trial in the new case. The time behind bars will be credited to his state sentence.
Kilpatrick was being held at the St. Clair County jail. Thomas hopes he will be transferred to the federal prison in Milan, Mich., where it’s easier for him to look over evidence and prepare a defense.
“We pleaded not guilty. That means we’re going to fight,” Thomas said.
Asked as she left the courthouse about Kilpatrick’s future, his sister Ayanna Kilpatrick, who served on the Civic Fund’s board, said: “It’s in God’s hands.”
Associated Press Writer Corey Williams contributed to this report.