Key player in Fattah theft, corruption sentenced to probation

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Political consultant Tom Lindenfeld (left) and former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah  (Lindenfeld photo via Lindenfeld's Facebook Page / Fattah photo by Matt Rourke

Political consultant Tom Lindenfeld (left) and former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (Lindenfeld photo via Lindenfeld's Facebook Page / Fattah photo by Matt Rourke

Thomas Lindenfeld, a high-profile campaign strategist, was sentenced Friday to four years probation for helping former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah steal public funds to support Fattah’s failed bid for Philadelphia mayor in 2007. He was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.

Lindenfeld, who worked on President Obama’s historic 2008 campaign, had faced jailtime after pleading guilty to one count of wire fraud in November 2014.

Before being sentenced, Lindenfeld, 61, told U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle that he had made a “grave error in judgment… I hope I have a chance to make that up.”

Bartle’s decision drew applause, hugs and tears from a jam-packed courtroom of supporters.

Prosecutors declined comment.

Robert Weinberg, Lindenfeld’s lawyer, declined comment as he and Lindenfeld headed downstairs for processing.

As of part his deal with the government, Lindenfeld testified against Fattah. On the stand, he calmly provided critical details about an illegal $1 million campaign loan and a sham nonprofit he created so he and Fattah could settle up on a campaign debt.

Weeks before the Democratic primary in 2007, Fattah’s campaign for mayor was in trouble. Once considered the front-runner, the veteran congressman was far behind and in dire need of campaign cash if he wanted to even try to close the gap.

To help, Lindenfeld told jurors Fattah arranged a pair of meetings with Albert Lord, the CEO of student loan giant Sallie Mae. After the second meeting, Lindenfeld said, Lord wired the $1 million to Lindenfeld’s political consulting firm. He said Lord loaned the money specifically to support Fattah’s campaign.

The sum far exceeded the city’s campaign finance limits, imposed in 2003 but applying to a mayor’s race for the first time.

After the election, Fattah owed Lindenfeld more than $100,000 for work he did during the campaign. But Fattah didn’t have the cash.

To settle up, Fattah encouraged Lindenfeld to create a nonprofit called the Blue Guardians, an organization that, on paper, focused on protecting the Atlantic, Gulf Coast, and Caribbean.

Fattah, who sat on the House Appropriations Committee, could then steer federal grants to the organization.

Lindenfeld said he opened a bank account, got a tax ID, and created an email address for Blue Guardians, but the organization never did any work.

Lindenfeld is the second of six defendants to be sentenced.

In late August, veteran political operative and longtime Fattah friend Gregory Naylor was handed four years probation and a $10,000 fine for helping the former lawmaker steal public funds to support his run for mayor.

In August 2014, Naylor pleaded guilty to concealment of a felony, knowingly falsifying records, and making false statements to the FBI. At trial, he provided what prosecutors called “pivotal” and “crucial” testimony.

Naylor told jurors Fattah knew every step of the scheme to repay part of the $1 million loan made to the mayoral campaign. Naylor said he helped conceal payments by creating fake invoices.

Fattah sentencing set for October

Fattah, who resigned after losing April’s Democratic primary, is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 4. That date is expected to change as his lawyers wait for Bartle to rule on motions for acquittal and a new trial.

They maintain that the government didn’t present sufficient evidence to prove Fattah’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Prosecutors said Fattah orchestrated a “white-collar crime spree” in the name of personal and political gain.

Fattah was convicted of racketeering, bribery, money laundering and other offenses.

A jury found that Fattah accepted bribes from Herbert Vederman, a wealthy friend and former city official who wanted to become a U.S. ambassador.

Fattah sent letters extolling Vederman’s resume to Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and members of the Obama administration.

In exchange, the government said, Vederman “showered” Fattah with gifts and money, including $18,000 to help pay for a vacation home in the Poconos.

Fattah also used campaign cash to help pay off some of his son’s college loan debt.

Vederman and three other co-defendants were convicted alongside Fattah and are also scheduled for sentencing in early October.

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