Philadelphia Democratic U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah made his first appearance in federal court Tuesday, declaring that he has done nothing wrong.
“I’d like to say that I’m not guilty,” said Fattah, letting his words leap at federal Judge Timothy Rice just after he entered the courtroom.
“OK, we’re not there yet,” Rice responded.
Fattah was eventually given his turn and pleaded not guilty to all 29 charges contained in a federal indictment charging misuse of taxpayer dollars and bribery.
After the quick arraignment, Fattah and his attorney fielded some questions from reporters outside the courthouse.
Then Sharon Burdette walked by and spied a gaggle of cameras around someone she recognized.
“I was just walking past and seen you guys. I was like, ‘that’s Chaka Fattah, hi,'” she said, bursting into laughter.
Shortly before, Burdette pushed through the crowd and shook Fattah’s hand before microphone-wielding TV reporters piled on the questions.
“I’m so disappointed with what’s going on with you right now, everything gonna work out. You’se a good guy. You’se a good guy,” Burdette said.
Fattah, for his part, also is disappointed and concurs that he’s a good guy as he stares down a federal indictment accusing him of paying off an illegal million-dollar loan with government money and also taking a $18,000 bribe from a lobbyist.
Despite that, Fattah said he’s focused on his constituents and re-election.
“After I leave here today, I’m going to return to my work, representing the people of the district. I’m going to be a candidate for re-election in next year’s primary for my 12th term in Congress,” Fattah told reporters.
Fattah called before the court hearing to expand on the brief words he’d speak in front of the federal judge.
“Read the 85 pages. Within the indictment, the allegations don’t stand up within their own words,” Fattah said. “The idea of what I’m doing is running a criminal enterprise, and that over eight years it’s been so energetic that it only accomplished five schemes. That’s illogical.”
He then went on to say that the charges aren’t what they appear to be.
“That they got the goods, that I’m off to the caboose. It’s not going to work like that,” Fattah said. “The whole indictment, and I’ve said this before, each and every allegation is false.”
The 11-term Democrat is free on $100,000 bail and had to forfeit his personal passport. Federal prosecutors agreed to let him keep his diplomatic passport for travel as a U.S. congressman.
In a separate case, Fattah’s son, Chaka Fattah Jr., is awaiting trial on charges of illegally spending federal education money.
The charges filed against the elder Fattah assert that his wife, Renee Chenault-Fattah, who is described as “Person E” in the indictment, faked the sale of a Porsche convertible to a lobbyist. Prosecutors say the lobbyist was seeking a coveted ambassadorship and that the sham sale was a bribe.
On Tuesday, Fattah said the feds have tried to smear his family, who are all innocent.
“That says a lot about character,” Fattah said. “So I think that’s the most unfortunate part about this entire process.”