Former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah wants a Philadelphia judge to clear his conviction on corruption charges and grant him a new trial, arguing that federal prosecutors presented insufficient evidence to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In a motion for acquittal filed late Monday, Fattah’s lawyers cite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who was convicted of performing “official acts” after taking bribes from a businessman. In a ruling overturning that decision, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that “setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or hosting an event does not, standing alone, qualify as an ‘official act.'”
“The Supreme Court’s McDonnell decision undercuts every one of the arguments the government made here that Congressman Fattah committed or agreed to commit an “official act,” wrote Fattah attorney Bruce Merenstein. “Indeed, the government’s arguments in this case as to what constituted an “official act” tracked precisely the arguments rejected by the Supreme Court in McDonnell.”
Prosecutors have not responded to the lastest filing.
U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III, who presided over Fattah’s trial, must rule on the motion before Fattah is sentenced, currently scheduled for Oct. 4.
In June, jurors dropped the hammer on Fattah, convicting him of orchestrating what prosecutors called a “white-collar crime spree” to steal hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars and charitable donations.
The government’s indictment laid out a series of schemes Fattah and four co-defendants participated in for personal and political gain.
Jurors were convinced that Fattah stole public funds to help repay part of an illegal $1 million loan made to his failed bid for Philadelphia mayor in 2007.
The panel also found that Fattah used campaign cash to help pay off some of his son’s college loan debt; encouraged a political consultant to create a sham nonprofit so it could be used as a vehicle to settle up on campaign debt; and accepted bribes from a close friend who wanted to be a U.S. ambassador.
At trial, prosecutors said that, for years, former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Herbert Vederman bribed Fattah in exchange for the congressman’s help to secure the high-profile post. Vederman “showered” Fattah with gifts and money, they said, including $18,000 to help pay for a home in the Poconos.
Fattah lobbied Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and members of the Obama administration, but Vederman never got the job.
Vederman is one of four co-defendants who was convicted alongside Fattah. The group also filed motions for acquittal on Monday.
Fattah resigned from office two days after being convicted amidst considerable political pressure.
In a letter sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Fattah explained his decision to step down as “out of respect for the entire House Leadership, as so as not to cause a distraction from the House’s work for the people.”
The letter makes no mention of his conviction.
For nearly a year before being convicted, Fattah fiercely maintained his innocence and called the charges against him “frivolous.” He has stayed silent since his trial.