DETROIT — Another day, and another scandal hits one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff were charged yesterday with a 12-count felony indictment that included perjury, obstruction of justice and official misconduct that could send them both to prison for up to 15 years.
An angry Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy, who had been investigating accusations against Mr. Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, since January, announced the charges in a text-message scandal and police-whistleblower lawsuit that cost the economically strapped city millions. She said others could be charged in the case.
Mr. Kilpatrick, a lawyer and father of three, and Mrs. Beatty, his one-time mistress who was married at the time of their affair, separately turned themselves in to police for booking yesterday.
“Even children know that lying is wrong. Witnesses must give truthful testimony,” Miss Worthy said at a morning press conference, calling out the mayor and his associates, including city attorneys, for trying to block her investigation.
“This is an extremely sad day for the city of Detroit, the county of Wayne and the state of Michigan,” she said. “Our investigation clearly shows that public dollars were used, people’s lives were ruined, the justice system severely mocked and the public trust trampled on.”
The charges, which rocked Motown, capped a month of woes for high-profile, fast-rising Democratic political players, especially over sex.
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a media darling, resigned in shame two weeks ago amid a federal investigation that accused him of spending thousands on a 22-year-old call girl.
Mr. Spitzer”s replacement, newly sworn-in Gov. David A. Paterson was forced to disclose that he and his wife had cheated on each other multiple times during his time in office. Last night, he admitted in his first TV interview that he had used cocaine “a couple of times,” delivering more black eye for the party. Former Gov. James E. McGreevey of New Jersey, forced to resign in 2004 over a homosexual affair, has been back in the news recently with a nasty divorce that has included charges that he, his wife and another man shared a bed.
The Democratic presidential race has been swamped in charges of corruption and unsavory association in recent weeks. Sen. Barack Obama has seen his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., become a national figure as videos of his fiery anti-American sermons have burned up the Internet.
Just yesterday, The Washington Times reported that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had a large donation from Mochtar Riady in 1993 brought to her attention as the Indonesian businessman was lobbying to have the U.S. lift its embargo on Vietnam, which President Clinton did. The Times also detailed how Mr. Obama profits from independent political expenditures from unions and independent political groups — spending which he had criticized in the past.
The Detroit mayor, who in January apologized to his wife and city at an emotional press conference at his church, yesterday said he was confident he would be found innocent.
“I am deeply disappointed in the prosecutor’s decision,” Mr. Kilpatrick, 37, said with a high-powered defense lawyer, former U.S. Attorney Daniel Webb of Chicago, at his side.
“This has been a very flawed process from the beginning,” said the mayor, who has repeatedly rejected calls to resign. “I look forward to complete exoneration once all the facts surrounding this matter have been brought forth.”
The furor centers on the firing of three Detroit police officers, who filed wrongful-dismissal lawsuits that the city settled for $8.4 million. The officers said they were forced out when they tried to investigate Mr. Kilpatrick’s use of his security detail to cover up his affair with Mrs. Beatty. Both the mayor and his aide denied an affair under oath. The mayor also settled the lawsuit without telling the City Council, prosecutors say, to keep the affair from becoming public.
In her complaint, Miss Worthy charged Mr. Kilpatrick with eight felony counts, including conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, perjury in a court proceeding, perjury in other than a court proceeding, and misconduct in office.
Mrs. Beatty, 37, who resigned her city post in February, was charged with seven felony counts.
Mr. Webb called for a swift trial and revealed at least some of his strategy in the case by saying that the text messages sent by Mr. Kilpatrick and Mrs. Beatty on city-issued Sky-Tel pagers were illegally obtained. The sexually suggestive text messages were later made public by the Detroit Free Press, which filed Freedom of Information Act requests for documents in the whistleblower case and revealed the pair’s intimate relationship.
“The initial production [of the messages] was illegal, so there is no question there will be a motion to suppress regarding the text messages,” Mr. Webb said, adding that he had urged Mr. Kilpatrick to issue no further statements about the case to keep it from being tried in the press.
City Council President Ken Cockrel called the charges against the mayor “a sad day for the city of Detroit,” but added that the mayor had no one to blame but himself.
The council voted last week 7-1 on a resolution urging the mayor to resign. Though that vote was nonbinding, conviction on the criminal charges would automatically force out the mayor. Local union members and prominent political players, among them Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, a Republican, have asked Mr. Kilpatrick to step down.
Reacting to the charges, Liz Boyd, a spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, said, “It’s important the legal process be allowed to work.”
Rep. Candice S. Miller, a Republican from Michigan’s 10th Congressional District said, “Today, everyone was put on notice that no one is above the law.”
Miss Worthy noted her outrage and the suffering brought upon career police officers who came forward to blow the whistle on the mayor and his security detail.
“Gary Brown’s, Harold Nelthrope’s and Walter Harris’ lives and careers were forever changed,” she said of the former officers. “They were ruined financially, and their reputations were completely destroyed because they chose to be dutiful police officers.”