An indebted congressman's son will defend himself against a 23-count indictment that involves bank fraud and a $930,000 federal contract, but he agreed to let public defenders stay on as standby counsel.
Chaka "Chip" Fattah Jr., 32, of Philadelphia, told a judge Friday that he had strategic differences with his two court-appointed lawyers and wanted "to address the court in my own voice and make critical decisions."
The judge warned against the move, tallying the charges to show they could mean a sentence of more than 400 years in prison and $12 million in fines if Fattah is convicted.
"Do you understand that if you represent yourself, you will be on your own ... and I cannot advise you?" U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle asked.
Fattah conceded that he never finished college or studied law. But he said he had been reading up on federal criminal procedure for six months, even before the August indictment.
His father, Chaka Fattah, is a 10-term Democratic congressman from Philadelphia who has been the subject of an ongoing federal investigation. It's not clear if the two probes are related. But father and son have suggested the probes are politically motivated.
The same FBI agent leading the son's case, Special Agent Richard J. Haag, was part of a subpoena that sought documents from the father's congressional office earlier this year.
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Rep. Fattah has said the link raises "concerns about the fair administration of justice" in his son's case.
The indictment accuses the younger Fattah of using federal education contracts and bank loans for personal expenses, including large gambling debts.
In response, Fattah Jr. has said he could spend his consulting income as he saw fit. In court Friday, he said his debts had grown "significantly" since August.
Lean, lanky and loquacious, he regularly calls reporters to discuss his case, and filed a 305-page pretrial memo this week, just one of "six or seven" he told Bartle to expect by the Jan. 12 deadline.
He has also filed a $100 million lawsuit against the IRS, claiming the seven-year investigation ruined his reputation and his various business endeavors.
"This entire situation is politically motivated," Fattah Jr. said in August at the courthouse. "If my dad wasn't the congressman, nobody would be going after me."
The indictment accuses him of lying about his income to obtain more than $200,000 in business loans. He is also charged with misusing some of the federal funds he received for a program for at-risk students in Philadelphia.
"I was at work every single day. For anybody to think that I didn't earn the $450,000 on that (one) contract, well, they're just wrong," Fattah said at the time.
Chaka Fattah, Jr. is the son of Congressman Chaka Fattah. The Congressman is married to NBC10 anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah.