DETROIT – A former Detroit city councilwoman was sentenced to more than three years in prison Wednesday for bribery after a federal judge refused to set aside her guilty plea during a stormy court hearing dominated by a dispute over evidence of other payoffs.
As guards cleared the packed courtroom, Monica Conyers yelled that she planned to appeal. The wife of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., wanted to withdraw her guilty plea, suggesting she was the victim of "badgering" last year when she admitted taking cash to support a Houston company's sludge contract with the city.
But U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn, reviewing a transcript of the June hearing, said Conyers had denied any coercion and voluntarily pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
Conyers is the biggest catch so far in the FBI's wide-ranging investigation of corruption in Detroit city government. Nine people have pleaded guilty, including two former directors of the downtown convention center, and prosecutors have promised that more charges are coming.
"Bribery is a betrayal of trust," Cohn told Conyers after announcing a 37-month prison term for her "egregious" crime. She quit the council after pleading guilty in June.
Conyers' guilty plea was limited to taking bribes to support a contract with Synagro worth $47 million a year. But the recent trial of her former aide, Sam Riddle, exposed a series of alleged schemes involving others making payoffs to do business at city hall.
Prosecutors said Riddle and Conyers collected $69,500 by shaking people down and urged Cohn to consider the alleged crimes when sentencing her. Defense lawyer Steve Fishman denied the allegations, and Conyers declared, "I'm not going to jail for something I didn't do."
"The sentence will be based solely on conviction," said the judge, who could have sent Conyers to prison for up to five years.
Conyers' husband, who has an office in the federal courthouse, was not in the courtroom.