U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah has been found guilty on all charges in his federal corruption case.
For nearly 11 months, the Philadelphia congressman has insisted he’s innocent of corruption charges and predicted his exoneration.
The jury had a different take. After a monthlong trial, it found Fattah guilty of fraud, bribery and conspiracy, crimes which could land him a substantial prison term.
U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger had harsh words for Fattah, one of the city’s most recognizable political figures.
“In short, Chaka Fattah … betrayed the public trust and undermined our faith in government,” Memeger said.
Since prosecutors unveiled the 28-count indictment in July, Fattah has proclaimed his innocence and said prosecutors had been out to get him for years. After a one-month trial and 14 hours of deliberation, the jury seemed to disagree.
In the conspiracy at the heart of the case, jurors concluded Fattah had orchestrated the theft of $600,000 in charitable and federal grant funds to repay an illegal campaign loan.
In a written statement, Fattah thanked his constituents and expressed his respect for the judicial system.
“This is an extraordinarily difficult day for me and my family. A jury has decided that based on the evidence presented to them that I am guilty of charges presented by the government. Today’s decision notwithstanding, it has been my privilege to serve the constituents of the 2nd Congressional District for over 20 years.
“We have done important work and passed legislation that has helped tens of millions of young people achieve their dream of a college education, ensured that hundreds of thousands of families facing foreclosure have been able to remain in their homes, and millions suffering from brain-related diseases now have hope that a cure or a treatment is closer today than yesterday. I continue to be proud of that record.
“While today’s outcome isn’t what we had hoped, I respect our nation’s judicial system. I want to thank the people of the 2nd Congressional District for the honor of serving them.”
Reacting to the verdict, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney offered a none-too subtle message to the 11-term representative.
“It’s my understanding that a congressman who’s been convicted cannot vote,” Kenney said. “I think the district there needs a voting member, the jury’s spoken and there’s nothing more that I can say other than the district needs a voting member.”
The mayor did not officially call for Fattah’s resignation, only repeating that the district including parts of Philadelphia and a slice of Lower Merion needs a voting member.
Two former Fattah associates, Gregory Naylor and Tom Lindenfeld, pleaded guilty to participating in the plan and testified that Fattah was the aware scheme.
Former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Herb Vederman, was convicted of bribing Fattah with cash and other gifts in return for Fattah’s efforts to get Vederman an ambassadorship or another federal appointment.
Vederman paid Fattah and his wife, former television anchor Renee Chenault Fattah, $18,000 to help them purchase a vacation home in the Poconos.
The Fattahs’ lawyers presented the transaction as a payment for a Porsche, which remained the Fattahs’ possession after the money changed hands. Prosecutors said it was a “sham transaction.”
Fattah was also convicted of using campaign funds to make tuition and student loan payments for his son Chaka Jr., also known as “Chip.” Naylor testified that Fattah instructed him to disguise those as payments to Naylor’s political consulting firm.
Two longtime friends of Fattah’s, Karen Nicholas and Bob Brand, were convicted of funneling the $600,000 in charitable and federal funds to repay the campaign loan.
Nicholas, a former Fattah staffer and CEO of the non-profit Educational Advancement Alliance, secured the money and sent it to Brand’s for-profit business, Solutions for Progress, which wired it to the political consultant Lindenfeld, who repaid the loan.
Bonnie Bowser, the chief of staff in Fattah’s Philadelphia office and treasurer of his campaign committees, was convicted of submitting false reports to cover up the fraudulent financial transactions.
None of the defendants took the stand in the trial.
Fattah’s attorneys argued that he was unaware of the details of his campaign’s finances, and that Lindenfeld and Naylor, the political operatives who said he was involved in the illegal loan are admitted felons who struck a deal with prosecutors.
Attorneys for Brand and Nicholas argued that the money they moved which ultimately repaid the illegal campaign loan were legitimate payments for services provided.
U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle has set a Oct. 4 sentencing date for Fattah, Vederman and Brand. Nicholas and Bowser will be sentenced Oct. 5.
Fattah said as he left court, “it’s been a tough day” and that he will “confer with his lawyers on what the next steps will be.”
Fattah can remain in Congress for the moment, but he may face pressure to resign. House rules bar him from voting in committee or on the floor, and the House could vote to censure or expel him.
Under any circumstances, he’ll be gone by January. He lost the April 26 primary to state Rep. Dwight Evans, who will face Republican James Jones in the November election.
CORRECTION: This article was corrected to reflect that the “jury seemed to disagree,” not “agree,” as was previously written in the sixth paragraph.