Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah Indicted in Racketeering Conspiracy

The Pennsylvania congressman and four others were charged in a 29-count indictment Wednesday.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 04: U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah attends the Launch of Virgin America's First Flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia on the tarmac of Phildelphia International Airport on April 4, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)
National Journal
Nora Kelly
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Nora Kelly
July 29, 2015, 7:28 a.m.

The Justice De­part­ment in­dicted Demo­crat­ic Rep. Chaka Fat­tah of Pennsylvania and four of his as­so­ci­ates for their in­volve­ment in a rack­et­eer­ing con­spir­acy “to fur­ther their polit­ic­al and fin­an­cial in­terests,” U.S. At­tor­ney Zane Dav­id Memeger said Wed­nes­day at a press con­fer­ence for the U.S. Dis­trict Court of the East­ern Dis­trict of Pennsylvania.

The charges with­in the 29-count in­dict­ment in­clude ac­cept­ing il­leg­al con­tri­bu­tions, bribery, cre­at­ing sham con­tracts, and mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing cam­paign funds to pay off Fat­tah’s son’s col­lege loans.

The five schemes de­scribed in Wed­nes­day’s in­dict­ment are fairly di­verse in nature. The first one that Memeger de­tailed at the press con­fer­ence dates back to Fat­tah’s failed 2007 bid to be­come may­or of Phil­adelphia.

Fat­tah gave a brief state­ment about the charges after they were re­leased, say­ing in re­sponse to a ques­tion from NBC’s Luke Russert, “This is not De­flateg­ate, all right? This is a nor­mal is­sue of which there are al­leg­a­tions after a very long-run­ning, eight-year in­vest­ig­a­tion.” He said that he’s “nev­er been in­volved in any wrong­do­ing, any un­law­ful activ­ity, and any mis­ap­pro­pri­ation of fed­er­al funds.”

Fat­tah said that he has “spent my time help­ing people,” and that he’s go­ing to try to make sure the al­leg­a­tions do not dis­tract from his work.

“The charges in the in­dict­ment against Con­gress­man Chaka Fat­tah are deeply sad­den­ing,” House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day. “Con­gress­man Fat­tah has been a tire­less and ef­fect­ive ad­voc­ate for Amer­ica’s hard-work­ing fam­il­ies across more than 20 years of dis­tin­guished ser­vice in the House.”

Ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment, Fat­tah and sev­er­al al­leged cocon­spir­at­ors re­ceived an il­leg­al $1 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion from a rich donor. The con­gress­man al­legedly re­turned $400,000, and “funneled” the re­main­ing $600,000 debt re­pay­ment through his non­profit Edu­ca­tion­al Ad­vance­ment Al­li­ance. He had the non­profit re­pay the funds “us­ing char­it­able and fed­er­al grant funds that passed through two oth­er com­pan­ies,” the in­dict­ment reads. De­fend­ants cre­ated sham con­tracts and “false entries” in fin­an­cial state­ments to cov­er up the scheme.

“That’s not prop­er use of gov­ern­ment funds,” Memeger said.

In an­oth­er scheme, the con­gress­man al­legedly “mis­ap­pro­pri­ated funds from his may­or­al and con­gres­sion­al cam­paigns to pay his son’s stu­dent-loan debt,” Memeger said at the press con­fer­ence.

Between 2007 and 2011, a polit­ic­al con­sult­ant al­legedly used those funds to make 34 loan pay­ments total­ing $23,000 on be­half of Fat­tah’s son.

And in yet an­oth­er in­stance, Fat­tah al­legedly tried to help lob­by­ist Her­bert Ve­der­man, who’s based in Flor­ida, get an am­bas­sad­or­ship or ap­point­ment to the U.S. Trade Com­mis­sion. The con­gress­man al­legedly lob­bied on Ve­der­man’s be­half “with in­di­vidu­als in the le­gis­lat­ive and ex­ec­ut­ive branches,” the in­dict­ment reads. In ex­change, Ve­der­man al­legedly paid him back for his ef­forts through money and “oth­er items of value to Fat­tah.” One pay­ment, for $18,000, was “dis­guised” as a car-sale pay­ment. (No ac­tu­al sale ever took place, the in­dict­ment reads.)

This isn’t the first time the Fat­tah name has been linked to cor­rup­tion al­leg­a­tions. Last year, Fat­tah’s son Chaka Fat­tah Jr. was in­dicted on charges that he de­frauded banks and the Phil­adelphia School Dis­trict, and sub­mit­ted false in­come-tax re­turns. His tri­al be­gins in Septem­ber. Also last year, a former aide to the con­gress­man pleaded guilty to charges that he mis­used cam­paign and fed­er­al funds. And back in 2012, Fat­tah Jr.’s home was raided by the FBI. That year, Fat­tah Sr. also tried to help a school where his son worked ob­tain a fed­er­al grant; the con­gress­man said his son had noth­ing to do with his at­tempt to as­sist the school.

Fat­tah is the top Demo­crat on the Ap­pro­pri­ations Sub­com­mit­tee on Com­merce, Sci­ence, and Justice — the pan­el that ac­tu­ally de­term­ines fund­ing levels for the FBI and the pro­sec­utors who have in­dicted Fat­tah.

When his son was un­der in­vest­ig­a­tion, Fat­tah was asked if he’d re­cuse him­self from his Justice De­part­ment ap­pro­pri­at­ing du­ties. He did not.

But, Pelosi an­nounced Wed­nes­day morn­ing, he has now giv­en up that post, fol­low­ing caucus rules that re­quire law­makers who are in­dicted for felon­ies car­ry­ing a pos­sible pris­on sen­tence of at least two years to sur­render chair­man­ships or rank­ing-mem­ber po­s­i­tions.

“Con­gress­man Fat­tah has rightly stepped down from his po­s­i­tion as Rank­ing Mem­ber on the House CJS Ap­pro­pri­ations Sub­com­mit­tee pending the res­ol­u­tion of this mat­ter,” Pelosi said in her state­ment.

Memeger said the FBI re­ceived a tip in March 2013 re­gard­ing Fat­tah, and began an in­quiry.

The case has been as­signed to a judge, Memeger said, and Fat­tah will re­ceive the date of his ini­tial ap­pear­ance in the fu­ture.

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