Prosecutors seek 17- to 21-year sentence for former Congressman Fattah

Chaka Fattah is scheduled to be sentenced Monday over schemes that largely surround an illegal $1 million campaign loan he obtained in a failed 2008 run for Philadelphia mayor.(Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Chaka Fattah is scheduled to be sentenced Monday over schemes that largely surround an illegal $1 million campaign loan he obtained in a failed 2008 run for Philadelphia mayor.(Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Federal prosecutors are seeking a sentence of 17 to 21 years for former Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah who was convicted of a racketeering scheme that included a string of illicit financial moves to cover up an illegal $1 million campaign loan.

Fattah, who served 11 terms,  is scheduled to be sentenced Monday, the denouement of a 30-year political career that took him on Air Force One and to a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Fattah, 60, got into financial trouble when his decision to run for Philadelphia mayor in 2007 brushed up against the city’s strict new campaign finance limits. As he struggled to raise money, he routed a $1 million loan from Sallie Mae chairman Albert Lord through a consultant, then reversed the secretive moves through a charity and others when Lord called in the debt.

“For over 20 years, Fattah held himself out … as a champion of education and clean government,” Justice Department lawyer Eric L. Gibson wrote in a filing late Monday that sought a sentence within the guideline range. Instead, “Fattah sought to strengthen himself politically, enrich himself and his co-conspirators, steal from nonprofits and the federal taxpayers, and defraud his campaigns, their creditors and a credit union.”

Defense lawyers have not yet filed their sentencing brief and did not immediately return calls for comment Tuesday.

Four others convicted with Fattah this year, including a former deputy Philadelphia mayor, also await sentencing next week. Chaka Fattah Jr. is meanwhile serving a five-year prison term in an overlapping bank fraud case that centered on the son’s outsized lifestyle and spiraling debts.

The elder Fattah resigned in June after a jury convicted him of racketeering, bribery, fraud and obstruction of justice. Prosecutors also are seeking more than $600,000 in restitution from him and other co-defendants.

According to trial testimony, Fattah used $23,000 in campaign funds to pay down his son’s college debt and took $18,000 from a friend seeking an ambassadorship when he needed a down payment for a Poconos vacation home. Fattah then pressed President Barack Obama — unsuccessfully — on the friend’s behalf.

“The enterprise existed primarily to support Fattah’s ambitions or desires, whether they were political … or financial,” Gibson wrote in the sentencing memo.

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