Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Pa. Congressman Fattah indicted on corruption charges
Pa. Congressman Fattah indicted on corruption charges from 2007 mayor’s race By Paul Kane and Mike DeBonis July 29 at 12:45 PM ET The Justice Department says Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) and four of his associates have been charged with participating in a racketeering conspiracy. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), a onetime rising star who came to Congress 20 years ago as a next-generation reformer, was charged Wednesday with racketeering related to an off-the-books $1 million loan to his unsuccessful campaign for Philadelphia mayor in 2007. The Justice Department charged Fattah, a senior member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, and four supporters with 29 counts that included bribery, bank fraud and other corruption charges. “The public expects their elected officials to act with honesty and integrity,” said U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “By misusing campaign funds, misappropriating government funds, accepting bribes and committing bank fraud, as alleged in the Indictment, Congressman Fattah and his co-conspirators have betrayed the public trust and undermined faith in government.” Following the indictment's unveiling, Fattah stepped down as ranking Democrat of the subcommittee that controls the budgets of the Justice Department, FBI and U.S. attorney's office. Fattah's lawyer, Luther E. Weaver III, declined to comment on the specifics of the indictment, having not fully read the charges, but said the congressman would fight the charges. The wide-ranging investigation has been going on for several years, leading to charges against or guilty pleas from a number of Fattah's associates, including his son and a political consultant to his mayoral campaign. Prosecutors allege that Fattah and associates took out a secret $1 million loan from a wealthy businessman to help fund Fattah's unsuccessful 2007 mayoral campaign, then conspired to use federal grant funds to repay much of it. He also is alleged to have tried to settle a campaign debt by directing a federal grant to his creditor. Some of the conduct laid out in the indictment was previously aired in November when charges were filed against a D.C.-based political consultant who had worked for Fattah's mayoral campaign. Fattah was not named in those documents, but several sources told The Washington Post that he was the unnamed public official referred to in charging documents. That consultant, Tom Lindenfeld, who had also worked with several D.C. mayors and numerous other Democratic candidates, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit fraud and is now awaiting sentencing. Fattah said at that time that he has “never been involved in any illegal conduct” or “misappropriation of taxpayer funds." [Read about D.C.-based consultant's role in Philadelphia corruption case] Prosecutors also leveled new allegations Wednesday, including accusations of a quid pro quo scheme to reward a lobbyist, Herbert Vederman, with an ambassadorship or an appointment to the U.S. Trade Commission in return for an $18,000 bribe and "other items of value." Fattah, a native of West Philadelphia, rose up through the ranks of the city's parochial political machine, first serving in the state House and then the state Senate. In 1991, his neighborhood's political icon, William Gray (D), who rose to become U.S. House majority whip, resigned from office under the cloud of a corruption scandal, and Fattah ran for the vacant seat. He lost to Lucien Blackwell, who was 25 years his senior and more connected to the party bosses. In 1994, Fattah defeated Blackwell and entered the House just as Republicans took charge for a 12-year run in the majority. While he rose up the ranks in seniority, his eyes remained fixed on Philadelphia's power centers. He married Renee Chenault, a popular television news anchor for the local CBS and NBC affiliates, and he began plotting a bid for the 2007 mayor's race as the incumbent, John Street, hit his term limit. In a five-person primary, Fattah seemed to be a top-tier candidate at the outset because his congressional district, anchored in West Philadelphia, gave him a voting base, and because of his fundraising prowess from Washington. However, amid a crime wave in the city that spring, Fattah found himself in a battle with the police union over his support for a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal, the convicted killer of a city police officer in 1981 whose case has become an international cause celebre. Michael Nutter, the former city councilman, embraced a tougher stance on crime and came from far behind to blow past the other Democratic candidates, winning by a wide margin. Fattah finished a distant fourth with 15 percent of the vote. Prosecutors allege that in the waning weeks of that primary race, Fattah's campaign received a $1 million loan from a wealthy supporter, but disguised the money as a loan to a consulting firm. Returning his focus to Washington, Fattah then used his perch overseeing federal purse strings to steer $600,000 through a nonprofit that he controlled, according to the statement issued by the Justice Department and the Philadelphia-based team of federal prosecutors who have led the investigation. He also tried unsuccessfully to steer a $15 million federal grant to a political consultant who was owed $130,000, prosecutors said, additionally alleging that Fattah had his consultant steer $23,000 from the congressional campaign account to pay down his son’s student loans. “These crimes and the subsequent elaborate cover-up constitute an egregious breach of public trust,” said Edward J. Hanko, special FBI agent of the Philadelphia division. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who announced Fattah's departure from the top Appropriations Committee post, called the charges "deeply saddening."