“Chaka’s going to prison,” I said to fellow reporter, sitting at my desk.
That was nearly two years ago, long before U. S. Rep Chaka Fattah was charged with a crime.
Federal prosecutors had filed court documents stating that Fattah, then identified as “elected official A” had orchestrated the theft of federal grant and charitable donations to repay an illegal campaign loan.
That document detailed a series of transactions in which $600,000 was zapped among the bank accounts of non-profits and businesses run by Fattah associates, landing in the hands of the rich guy who’d made the illegal loan.
If there was a benign explanation for those wire transfers, I figured, we’d know it and Fattah and his friends wouldn’t be in this soup.
But I knew I could be wrong.
We didn’t know Fattah’s side of the story, and I was anxious to hear it.
Fattah cheerfully dismissed the allegations, then and later when he was charged with conspiracy, fraud and bribery.
He said he looked forward to a trial, and promised he wouldn’t rely on the “reasonable doubt” standard to gain acquittal.
“I plan to prove my innocence,” he said.
But at trial, Fattah declined to take the stand, and his co-defendants also kept their seats. The jury heard plenty from their attorneys, but not a convincing explanation for those wire transfers.
There was more, of course – Fattah’s use of campaign funds to pay his son’s college costs; his attempts to get federal funding for a non-existent environmental group to pay a political operative he owed money to; and the money sent his way by a rich guy Fattah promoted for an ambassadorship.
On that last item, the jury heard former Gov. Ed Rendell scold prosecutors for making friendship a federal crime. They listened, and convicted Fattah and rich guy.
Note to Rendell: If you think it’s okay for an elected official to take thousands of dollars from a “friend” and use the power of his office to advance his friend’s career and give his girlfriend a job, you need to think again.
Given Fattah’s financial problems, I’m sure he’d like to hold on to his Congressional office and the salary as long as possible.
But this will be embarrassing for House Democrats, and for Philadelphia, which doesn’t want stories about how the city hosting a historic Democratic convention has a sitting Congressman who’s a convicted felon.
The sooner we get this behind us, the better.