Fattah won’t wait for trial to dispute charges

     U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah says charges against him are

    U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah says charges against him are "provably false." (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Indicted Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah says he’s going to prove he’s innocent, and he isn’t going to wait for a trial to get started. He told me he’ll publicly refute at least one part of the corruption case against him “in a matter of days.”

    Fattah hasn’t been hiding since the feds charged him and four others with racketeering conspiracy, bribery, and other charges.

    I called him yesterday after I’d heard him say on Solomon Jones’ WURD radio show that he planned to clear himself not just by raising reasonable doubt, but by proving his innocence, “which is a standard, or a burden, that as an American citizen you normally don’t have.”

    I wanted to see if Fattah would be willing to talk, now, about specific charges. And he did, a bit.

    The Porsche sale

    The feds allege that Fattah took an $18,000 bribe from a guy who wanted an ambassadorship, and that he and his wife, Renee Chenault-Fattah, “falsely styled” the transaction as a sale of Chenault-Fattah’s Porsche convertible.

    I asked the congressman about the feds’ charge that after the car was supposedly sold, he continued to insure the vehicle, making payments from his congressional campaign account.

    “That is provably false, in every respect,” Fattah said, “and the people who alleged it know that it’s false.”

    I noted that the indictment lists five payments, with specific dates and amounts.

    “I tell you what. We’ll give you a bite at the apple when we’re ready to deal with that, in a matter of days – not months, not years,” Fattah told me. “We’re just going to take that one thing. And we’re going to show what the facts are.”

    I asked whether, as the indictment charges, his wife renewed the car’s registration in her name after the supposed sale of the car.

    “I’m not going to get into dealings around other people, right?” he said. “I said this: I deny each and every one of these allegations.”

    Other matters

    I asked Fattah about the feds’ allegation that he arranged an illegal $1 million loan to his 2007 mayoral campaign from former Sallie Mae CEO Albert Lord (identified in the indictment as “Person D”).

    “I have never had a discussion about a loan for the campaign with anyone. Anyone,” he said.”There were no loans to the campaign, OK?”

    This could be a semantic defense, since the feds allege that Lord’s money went not to the campaign fund, but to a political consultant who, with others saw that $400,000 went to campaign expenses.

    Again, Fattah said, the allegation is “provably false.”

    He also said that the indictment is wrong in asserting that one of his allies took $50,000 from a federal agency for a conference “which never took place.”

    Fattah said his annual Conference on Higher Education was held every February during the period in question.

    This could be a technical dispute, but it really ticks Fattah off. The indictment charges that one of Fattah’s co-defendants, Educational Advancement Alliance CEO Karen Nicholas, applied for the grant and at some point in a communication indicated the conference would occur in October 2012.

    The sense I got from Fattah is that it’s likely Nicholas was fudging the date of the conference to meet a technical requirement of the federal agency after a back-and-forth about her application. But her mention of the fall date allowed the feds to say the October conference never occurred, while Fattah said they know the conference was well-attended in February.

    He was particularly bothered that authorities had cited the conference that never happened in the news conference announcing the charges.

    A deeper question is whether, as the feds charge, Nicholas took the grant for the conference and spent the funds on herself and another Fattah ally, Gregory Naylor. Naylor has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the government.

    Most criminal defendants follow their attorney’s advice and say nothing about their cases until they’re over.

    Fattah isn’t doing that, and it’s going to make the coming months that much more interesting.

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