Detroit airport kickback scheme leads to 10-year prison term

DETROIT (AP) — A Detroit-area airport employee convicted of fixing contracts and collecting more than $6 million in kickbacks was sentenced to 10 years in prison Wednesday, far below the 25-year term sought by federal prosecutors.

The government said James Warner’s punishment should nearly match the 28-year sentence handed to former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. But a judge said Warner’s crimes and influence at the airport weren’t in the same league.

Kilpatrick had an “entire web of corruption” and “mightily contributed to the slide of Detroit,” said U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts, who also linked him to the city’s 2013-14 bankruptcy.

“His name was a household name across the country,” Roberts said of Kilpatrick.

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Warner, 53, was an infrastructure supervisor at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in suburban Detroit. He was charged with feeding inside information to certain contractors, inflating their invoices and demanding kickbacks if they got the work.

In one example, Warner falsified the size of an asphalt project and approved a $938,000 bill, although the job actually cost $275,000, according to evidence.

The indictment said Warner once wrote a cash demand on a napkin, passed it to a contractor and then ate it. Federal authorities eventually seized about $4 million from him.

Warner apologized to the airport, his family, friends and even the judge for the burden of the criminal case. But he didn’t make a direct reference to his conviction during brief remarks.

“I respect the system and the role that everyone plays in it,” Warner told Roberts.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eaton Brown said Warner’s kickback scheme was “one of the largest in the country.”

“Mr. Warner robbed the citizens and taxpayers blind and had no qualms doing it,” Brown said.

Defense attorney Robert Harrison asked for no more than a four-year prison sentence. He tried to soften Warner’s image, noting he brought whiskey and a Christmas tree to a needy friend and rushed to get gas for a young couple stranded with a stalled car.

The case is “just another in a long series of falls from grace that this court has witnessed,” the judge said.

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