Philadelphia jury says state Sen. Larry Farnese not guilty on fraud charges

 Senator Larry Farnese smiles with his mother outside the Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia after an acquittal  exonerating him of charges (Bobby Allyn/WHYY)

Senator Larry Farnese smiles with his mother outside the Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia after an acquittal exonerating him of charges (Bobby Allyn/WHYY)

A federal jury on Wednesday acquitted state Sen. Larry Farnese of all charges after a five-day trial on mail and wire fraud charges. 

Federal prosecutors accused him of bribing a local Philadelphia Democratic Party official and breaking campaign finance laws. But the jury was persuaded by what Farnese’s attorneys have said all along: giving a $6,000 donation to a ward committeewoman was not corruption. He was just helping out a constituent, who needed financing to help support a daughter’s study-abroad program. 

“Today the system worked,” Farnese said outside the courtroom, reacting to the verdict. “Today, what was proved what was I always knew and what the people in this district always knew: that I was innocent.”

Former Eighth Ward Committeewoman Ellen Chapman, who was also charged, was acquitted as well. 

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Chapman, among the more than 50 committee people in the Eighth Ward, had originally supported candidate Stephen Huntington for ward leader. When $6,000 from Farnese’s senate campaign fund was sent to benefit Chapman’s family, she switched her support for Farnese, who subsequently won the ward leader election.

Before the race, Chapman called Huntington in tears, saying she would no longer be voting for him, prosecutors say. Shortly after, Huntington dropped out of the race.

Chapman did not vote in the ward election that Farnese won, but prosecutors say Chapman’s decision to no longer support Huntington was influenced by the donation.

Testifying to jurors last week, Huntington seemed unfazed by the whole thing. 

“I thought she was a logical supporter for my candidacy,” said Huntington, 73, a retired attorney, describing a phone conversation in which a tearful Chapman said she would no longer be voting for him.

“But I did not hold this against her,” Huntington said. “I regarded her as a mom who was interested in her daughter’s education. Who can argue with that?”

Farnese said, if he could, he would make the same donation again. Chapman’s daughter, Hannah, used the $6,000 donation to Bard College to help pay for a study abroad program in Kyrgyzstan. 

“What I did with Hannah, I’d do it again,” Farnese said on Wednesday outside of the federal courthouse in Center City just before embracing his mother, Madeline Farnese. 

“You get into this job to help people, to try to make peoples’ lives better. That’s always been my theory of government and elected office,” he said.

The federal government’s indictment, he said, attempted to criminalize routine political behavior in Pennsylvania politics. 

Farnese, whose district includes Center City, said he’s now looking forward to putting the trial behind him.

What’s next? Dealing with the tough budget season ahead in Harrisburg. 

“I’m just so happy that I’m going back to do what I love to do, which is represent the people of the 1st District,” Farnese said. “I’m ready to go back to work.” 

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