Chaka Fattah Jr.: I’m suing the IRS to find out who leaked my personal info to the press

 Chaka

Chaka "Chip" Fattah Jr.: 'There is a reason for the presumption of innocence, which is part of our criminal-justice system's foundation.' (Photo courtesy of Fattah)

As son of the area’s longtime U.S. Representative, and with ties to a now-shuttered alternative-education school in East Falls, Chaka Fattah Jr. has been on Northwest Philadelphia’s news radar for several years. Here, he shares his thoughts on that, as well as his recently filed lawsuit against the IRS, in a Speakeasy essay.

It has been an interesting nine days since I filed a federal civil complaint against the Internal Revenue Service here in Philadelphia.

On Tuesday, I filed an amended complaint under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The key changes are in addition to nearly $1 million in actual damages, I am now seeking $9.1 million in punitive damages.

I also added the FBI and Department of Justice as additional defendants, and provided much greater detail and specificity to the complaint about the damage to my reputation, and photos of federal agents walking into my then-residence and office.

Press coverage

There has been a tremendous amount of media interest in my lawsuit and the amended filing.

The most detailed legal and factual analysis to date has come from tax attorney and popular Forbes blogger Kelly Phillips Erb, in her piece on the original filing “Congressman’s Son Sues IRS for Nearly $1 million Citing ‘Heavy Handed’ Tactics.”

There has also been high-quality journalism from Jonathan Tamari at the Inquirer and Jared Shelly at the Business Journal, among others. (See here, here and here.)

I have received nothing but positive feedback, and have heard from people who have not contacted me since I became the subject of intense media scrutiny in Feb. 2012. I want to thank all of my supporters for their well wishes and thoughts.

It is liberating after more than two years, to finally tell my side of the story. After more than 50 articles in which my name has appeared in a negative light, it is great to add my voice to the conversation.

After months of research, I filed the lawsuit pro se. I am not an attorney, but I believe I know how to form a quality argument. (The key difference: The argument has to be written and detailed as opposed to a conversational tone).

What follows is an account of what’s happened in the past two years that I’d like to share with NewsWorks readers.

Fattah Jr. explains his suit

A little over two years ago, my entire life changed.

It was 6:20 a.m. and the day was Wednesday, February 29, 2012 and my ex-girlfriend told me there were two IRS special agents at the door.

I moved to my new apartment, at the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, just three months earlier after three years of living in the heart of Old City.

I was surprised to say the least, having never had more that minor traffic violations as my experience as the subject of any action in the criminal-justice system. No arrests, no charges, ever.

The Internal Revenue Service had never audited me, let alone sent me more than two billing notices since I started earning an income in 2002 at the age of 19.

The agents sat on my living-room couch and asked questions about several tax years, my income and the services I performed under contracts from 2005 until that date.

At the end of the interview, I received two subpoenas which asked for all business correspondence from 2005 through the date of the interview for my small business.

Every contract, letter, email, invoice and bank statement.

The requests for documents seemed a little broad to me, both in terms of the time period covered and the fact that they did not seem to have a particular “smoking gun” that the government was searching for.

As the agents were handing me the subpoenas, they got a cell-phone call. One of the agents — I believe his name is Michael — said something to the effect of, “Yes, we’re here [Ritz-Carlton] now. Ok, see you soon.”

A few minutes later, there was another knock on my door.

Who’s there?

Several agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said they were there to execute a search warrant and gave me a copy to read.

The search warrant included my cell phone and laptop, to which I no longer had access, as well as all the documents requested in the subpoenas.

“Can I get my lawyer’s number out of my iPhone?” I asked the agent.

He said no.

The subpoenas had a return date of several weeks later, as is standard practice. What did the government assume I would do? Perhaps they incorrectly thought I would destroy or otherwise hide what they believed was potential evidence?

It occurs to me that this heavy handed approach is unusual for a then-29-year-old with no history of criminal behavior, let alone tax-compliance issues.

Apparently out of some concern that I would erase my cell-phone data, I was not permitted to contact an attorney.

I then asked to call my sister, who is an attorney. After being told several times I could not call her, an FBI agent told me he was under the impression I was still asking to use my cell phone, and not the house phone on the wall.

Since that phone was not part of the search, I was allowed to call her (and wake her up). Ten minutes later, my new legal team arrived.

Legal representation

The two-person team that morning was led by Gregory P. Miller — managing partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, former Assistant U.S. Attorney and Chief of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania — and Matthew A. Luber, an experienced associate in the firm’s Commercial Litigation Practice Group.

Miller told me that after the search was complete, we would head back to his offices at One Logan Square.

There, I would spend the rest of the day discussing the subpoenas and search warrant.

Since my phone and laptop had been seized, I did not have any opportunity to check the day’s news stories, as I frequently do.

Checking the headlines

Anyone who checks my Twitter feed will see that I rarely post anything personal. Instead, I share articles that I have read and seemingly contain information most people do not know.

To my surprise, I was the top story on philly.com when I used a Drinker Biddle laptop early that afternoon. The story “FBI seizes records of Rep. Fattah’s son” was written by talented writers, and had a photo of plainclothes federal agents entering my apartment building at around 6:30 a.m. that morning.

How did the Philadelphia Inquirer know in advance to assign their photographer to be there?

The IRS, FBI and DOJ obviously had a subset of employees who knew the search warrant, subpoenas and interview were going to happen that day, at that specific time. Yet, I had no prior knowledge that I was the subject of a federal investigation.

The point I’m trying to make

This is probably the most important issue to be decided in the civil lawsuit I filed seeking actual and punitive damages of nearly $10 million, court costs and a formal apology from the IRS, FBI and the Department of Justice.

I am not an attorney, and have no legal training, so I spent several months preparing to file this lawsuit on my own. As part of that effort, I reviewed legal filings from across the country.

I intend to get to the bottom of the disclosure to the media of my name, address and time of the government’s actions on Feb. 29, 2012.

The IRS and related federal agencies have a responsibility to not chase headlines.

There is a reason for the presumption of innocence, which is part of our criminal-justice system’s foundation. Another part of that foundation? Not harming an American citizen without due process of law.

The government should not take steps to embarrass any person under suspicion of committing a crime … even if the person under suspicion is a member of a high-profile family.

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