It’s widely expected that former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah will serve jail time after being convicted on a slew of corruption charges last week. But his punishment won’t end there.
Some time before sentencing, or that day, U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle will decide what property Fattah and his four co-defendants will lose through a process called criminal forfeiture.
The government can automatically seize houses, cars, boats, even bank accounts, as long as they have proven ties to the crimes committed by a defendant.
“The first look is going to be to trace the proceeds of the criminal activity. If those funds are available then they’ll grab that, then they’ll go after the substitute assets,” said veteran criminal defense attorney Thomas Bergstrom.
Prosecutors could go after a house in the Poconos and a Porsche — both are tied to a bribery scheme prosecutors say was hatched to help a wealthy friend who wanted to become a U.S. ambassador.
Jurors found that Fattah took cash and gifts from co-defendant Herbert Vederman, including $18,000 that was used to help buy a mountain house. A sham car sale was used to cover up that transaction.
In exchange, Fattah wrote letters extolling Vederman’s resume and sent them to Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and members of the Obama administration, including a hand-delivered note to President Obama.
The government’s indictment, filed in July, doesn’t list either the house or the car, only cash — well over $700,000. Fattah and his four co-defendants would be liable for that amount.
The cash is connected to bribes and the repayment of an illegal $1 million loan Fattah accepted while running for Philadelphia mayor in 2007.
The group will also have to make restitution to those victimized by their crimes. The list will likely include the Educational Advancement Alliance and Core Philly, two nonprofits Fattah founded.
The congressman and his co-defendants were convicted of bilking those organizations of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer and charitable dollars.
If Fattah can’t pay up, the government could go after other property, including his home in the city, though it’s not expected.
“If there aren’t assets to cover that restitution, the government will take a judgment against that property or whatever that might be,” said Bergstrom.
Fattah is already expected to lose his federal pension. House ethics rules bar federal lawmakers from collecting their benefits if they’re convicted of certain crimes while in office that can be traced to their official duties.
The list includes bribery, conspiracy and money laundering. Fattah was convicted on those counts and more.
Fattah is expected to be the first federal lawmaker to be stripped of his pension benefits under these circumstances.
Fattah resigned Thursday amid pressure from House leadership.
In his letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Fattah said he stepped down “out of respect for the entire House Leadership, as so as not to cause a distraction from the House’s work for the people.”
Fattah and his co-defendants are scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 4 and 5.
Fattah, 59, could serve decades in prison.