U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, a 21-year Congressional veteran who has served on the powerful House Appropriations Committee was convicted in a federal racketeering case Tuesday that could send him to prison.
Prosecutors said that Fattah, 59, took bribes and embezzled charitable donations and grant funds that he controlled in order to repay illegal loans that went toward his failed run for mayor of Philadelphia in 2007.
Jurors found the Democratic congressman guilty of racketeering, fraud and money laundering although his lawyers said that the theft was contrived by others linked to Fattah who had pleaded guilty in the case.
Fattah’s lawyers acknowledged he might have gotten himself in financial trouble after the costly mayoral bid, but they said any help from friends amounted to gifts, not bribes.
Many of them came from co-defendant Herbert Vederman, a wealthy friend who had dreams of scoring an ambassadorship. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, testified that he never took the pitch from Fattah too seriously, even though Fattah once bent the president’s ear about it. Democrat Ed Rendell, a former mayor and governor, was called to defend Vederman, his former deputy mayor. He said Vederman was qualified for the job and accused prosecutors of cynically misreading the help he lent Fattah.
Vederman helped support Fattah’s South African nanny and paid $18,000 for a Porsche owned by Fattah’s TV anchor wife, Renee Chenault-Fattah, who took a leave after her husband’s indictment and then quit her job in February.
The campaign loan was just one of several schemes prosecutors outlined during the trial. They say Fattah was aided in his endeavors by current and former staffers who ran his district office or the nonprofits; by Vederman, who now lives in Palm Beach, Florida; and by political consultants Greg Naylor and Thomas Lindenfeld, who pleaded guilty.
The other co-defendants are Bonnie Bowser, of Philadelphia, who ran his district office; Karen Nicholas, of Williamstown, New Jersey, who ran the education nonprofit Fattah started; and Robert Brand, of Philadelphia, a businessman married to a former Fattah staffer. The jury on Tuesday came back with a mixed verdict for them.
Fattah stepped down as the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice and science when he was indicted in July 2015.
Under the House’s Code of Conduct, a lawmaker who is convicted is not to vote in committee or in the full House if the punishment for his conviction may be two or more years’ imprisonment.
Fattah had been in Congress since 1995 but lost the April primary and his bid for his 12th term. His current term ends Jan. 2. He is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 4.
Photo: Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., walks after leaving the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, Tuesday. AP/Matt Rourke