Farnese trial on bribery charges set to get underway

Pennsylvania  Sen. Larry Farnese

Pennsylvania Sen. Larry Farnese

Pennsylvania Sen. Larry Farnese’s trial on charges that he bribed a Democratic Party official is expected to begin Monday.

A federal judge on Friday denied an attempt by Farnese — both a state senator and Philadelphia ward leader — to have the indictment dismissed.

In 2011, he used money from his Senate campaign to help him keep his ward position. Farnese argues there was nothing wrong with that, but prosecutors contend it was illegal.

Farnese allegedly gave $6,000 to the daughter of ward committeewoman Ellen Chapman, who then switched her ward leader vote to support Farnese who maintained the ward position. Chapman has also been charged, according to prosecutors who said the money went toward tuition for her daughter’s study abroad.

Attorneys for Farnese counter that the campaign donation was legal under state campaign finance laws, which permit spending campaign money on other political races, but expressly forbids giving money to win the vote of a party official.

In a legal opinion accompanying her order declining Farnese motion to dismiss, U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe wrote that a conviction may turn on whether prosecutors can prove that Chapman is considered a “party official” under state law and that the $6,000 payment violated state bribery laws.

The charges are being pursued by prosecutors in the Washington-based office of the Department of Justice, who have charged Farnese with conspiracy, wire fraud and additional counts. 

Farnese represents Center City and parts of South Philadelphia. He won re-election in November, his third term as a state senator. 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.