They were friends who received two of the longest sentences ever handed down for public corruption, but today Bobby Ferguson is a free man, three months after his co-defendant, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, was granted clemency by outgoing President Donald Trump.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds opened the cell door for Ferguson on Thursday, after he served seven years of his 21-year sentence at a federal prison in eastern Ohio. Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years.
"It would be inequitable for the defendant to complete the lengthy sentence originally imposed while the more culpable co-defendant who had received an even lengthier sentence, has been released," Edmunds wrote in her release order.
Shortly after Kilpatrick was released in January, Ferguson's attorneys filed a motion saying it was unfair for Ferguson to remain behind bars while Kilpatrick went free. Unlike Kilpatrick, who never admitted wrongdoing, Ferguson in the court filing did.
Ferguson also claimed he had some medical issues, which put him at risk of contracting Covid in prison. The U.S. Attorney's Office, which opposed his release, questioned the health issues.
But the judge noted that there were legitimate concerns because he has hypertension, high cholesterol and reduced lung capacity due to bullet wounds he suffered during a robbery and carjacking.
The judge noted that Kilpatrick's released undermined the balance "the court attempted to achieve at sentencing." She wrote that Kilpatrick got a harsher sentence than Ferguson because he was elected to serve the people.
"He was a single-minded crony of the mayor's, whose only single apparent goal was to enrich himself at other's expense," she wrote of Ferguson, adding: "He was not the driver of the bus, that was Mr. Kilpatrick."
As a precautionary measure, the judge ordered that Ferguson quarantine for 14 days after he gets home.
Ferguson was convicted in 2013 of nine charges, including racketeering conspiracy, bribery and extortion.
Last month, Ferguson's attorneys filed a motion for his release.
"Mr. Ferguson’s sentence was too long as compared with his co-defendant, Kwame Kilpatrick, and with other defendants convicted of similar crimes," attorneys Michael Rataj and Gerald Evelyn wrote. "Indeed, the commutation of Mr. Kilpatrick’s sentence by the Executive Branch, from 28 years to 8 years, amplifies the 'extraordinary and compelling reasons' to grant Mr. Ferguson’s motion for compassionate release."
In a subsequent filing, the U.S. Attorney's Office urged the judge to keep Ferguson behind bars.
"Our victimized community, which was in the process of healing following the convictions of Kilpatrick and Ferguson, was wounded when Kilpatrick was released from prison," prosecutors wrote. "This court should not pour salt on those wounds by releasing Kilpatrick's tyrant."