Federal prosecutors on Tuesday accused a state senator of using campaign money to bribe a Democratic Party ward committeewoman in Philadelphia by paying for her daughter's college study abroad program.
Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, was charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and violations of the Travel Act, prosecutors said. Farnese secured support from the ward official for his successful candidacy inPhiladelphia's eighth ward leadership election by paying $6,000 toward the study program, they said.
The ward committeewoman, Ellen Chapman, was charged with the same crimes.
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In a statement from Washington, the Department of Justice said the pair was involved "in a bribery and fraud scheme."
Farnese's lawyer Mark Sheppard said Farnese is "100 percent innocent" of the charges and Farnese simply made a contribution "to a deserving young student's scholarship fund in exchange for the support of the student's mother in a party ward election."
Farnese, Sheppard said, performed "a regular and appropriate part of being a community and political leader that the government would now like to be declared illegal."
Criminalizing such circumstances is dangerous, Sheppard said, accusing prosecutors of extending their reach "well beyond accepted constitutional grounds and into areas of purely local party organizational politics."
Chapman couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. It was unclear whether she had a lawyer, and she did not appear to have a listed telephone number.
Chapman had originally intended to support a different candidate in the ward leader election, prosecutors said. Farnese made the $6,000 payment using campaign funds and, according to federal prosecutors, "disguised the true purpose of the payment by falsely listing it as a 'donation' on the campaign's finance report."
Farnese's political action committee, Friends of Farnese, reported a $6,000 payment to Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, on July 8, 2011. The ward election was in December of that year.
Sheppard said the donation was properly reported and Chapman did not participate in the ward election. No other committee person has claimed to have been offered anything of value by Farnese, Sheppard said.
Farnese was first elected to the Senate in 2008.