A prominent Washington political consultant pleaded guilty Wednesday to taking part in an illegal campaign finance scheme stemming from U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah's failed run for mayor.
Thomas Lindenfeld is the second former adviser to the Democratic congressman to plead guilty to federal charges in connection with Fattah's 2007 mayoral campaign.
Fattah, who was re-elected to a 11th term Tuesday, has been the subject of a long-running federal investigation. He has not been accused of any crimes. In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Fattah said it's "disappointing that a second individual associated with me has pleaded guilty to wrongdoing," but said he has "never been involved in any illegal conduct nor misappropriation of taxpayer funds."
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Fattah is married to NBC10 news anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah.
Federal prosecutors said Lindenfeld conspired with Fattah — identified in court and court documents only as "Elected Official A" — to arrange an illegal $1 million political contribution.
The donation was in the form of a loan that was routed through Lindenfeld's Washington firm, LSG Strategies, prosecutors said. The government said it was subsequently repaid with stolen charitable funds and federal grant money funneled through several entities, including LSG, under the guise of contracts for services that were never provided.
A prosecutor, without naming names, said the alleged fraud was committed at the behest of the elected official.
"The scheme to inject $1 million campaign contribution into the mayoral race was at the direction of Elected Official A and the proposed federal earmark to compensate Mr. Lindenfeld for the work he had done on the campaign was also ... done at the direction of Elected Official A," said Eric Gibson, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section.
Prosecutors avoided directly identifying Fattah in court files and the proceedings, but the charging document at one point refers to Lindenfeld as having deprived "Elected Official A's Congressional District" of its right to honest services. U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III went a step further, identifying the district as the 2nd Congressional District, which Fattah has represented for nearly 20 years.
Lindenfeld is an ex-partner of David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama.
Lindenfeld, 59, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
During his plea, Lindenfeld spoke so softly that the judge had to ask him to speak up. His sentencing was set for March 25.
In 2007, he worked with another Fattah aide and political consultant who pleaded guilty in August to taking part in a pair of campaign finance schemes.
The other aide, Gregory Naylor, is a longtime friend of the congressman who is due to be sentenced next month. Naylor helped conceal the theft of federal funds and private charitable funds that were used to repay illegal campaign debt incurred by Fattah, prosecutors said, also without identifying the congressman by name.
Prosecutors said Naylor also plotted to use campaign funds to pay down the college debt of Fattah's son, Chaka Fattah Jr.
Fattah Jr. has been charged with stealing federal funds meant for city schools, fraudulently obtaining business loans and using the money on personal expenses, including large gambling debts. He has pleaded not guilty.