A jury has convicted veteran U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah in a racketeering case that largely centered on various efforts to repay an illegal $1 million campaign loan.
Fattah was found guilty of all 22 counts, including racketeering, fraud and money laundering. His lawyers had argued that schemes were engineered without Fattah's knowledge by two political consultants who pleaded guilty in the case. [[383820231, C]]
Fattah's jovial and calm demeanor didn't change much as the verdict was read, according to NBC10's Deanna Durante, who was in the courtroom.
As he emerged from the courthouse after the guilty verdict, Fattah made a brief statement and headed straight to confer with his lawyers.
"We'll figure out what our next steps are," he said, without answering other questions from the throng of reporters.
The 59-year-old Democrat has represented West Philadelphia as well as parts of Center City, South Philly, Montgomery County and the Main Line in Congress since 1995 and served on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. But he lost the April primary and bid for his 12th term. Fattah's current term ends in December.
"This trial is a referendum on Chaka Fattah, Sr.'s conduct," U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger said, adding he would ask for jail time and would be working to determine what that ask might be based on sentencing guidelines.
Memeger credited testimony from insiders like former staffer and confidant Gregory Naylor and political consultant Thomas Lindenfeld as critical to the trial's outcome.
"They were able to give that inside view and the jury believed that inside view given by those individuals and that was key to our success in this case."
Fattah will remain out on bail ahead of his October sentencing.
Jurors began deliberations late Wednesday afternoon, nearly a month after the trial began May 16. One juror was dismissed in the racketeering case without explanation Friday. An alternate replaced the missing member, and U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III ordered jurors to begin deliberations again. [[383818891, C]]
Prosecutors said Fattah routed federal grant money and nonprofit funds through his consultants to pay back the illegal loan.
His wife, former NBC10 news anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah, took a leave of absence after her husband's indictment, then quit in February. She was cited in the case over the sham sale of her Porsche, which prosecutors said was a bribe. She was never charged with any wronging, and has always maintained the sale was legitimate.
Justice Department lawyer Jonathan Kravis said in his closing argument that Chaka Fattah also used federal grants and nonprofit funds to enrich his family and friends.
Defense lawyers acknowledged Fattah might have gotten himself in financial trouble after a costly mayoral bid, but they said any help from friends amounted to gifts, not bribes.
Many of them came from co-defendant Herbert Vederman, a wealthy friend who had dreams of scoring an ambassadorship. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, testified that he never took the pitch from Fattah too seriously, even though Fattah once bent the president's ear about it.
Democrat Ed Rendell, a former mayor and governor, was called to defend Vederman, his former deputy mayor. He said Vederman was qualified for the job and accused prosecutors of cynically misreading the help he lent Fattah.
Vederman helped support Fattah's South African nanny and paid $18,000 for a Porsche owned by Fattah's TV anchor wife.
"The nanny, the Porsche and the Poconos, they weren't part of a bribery scheme," Fattah lawyer Samuel Silver argued in closings. "Those were all overreaches by the prosecution."
The campaign loan was just one of several schemes prosecutors outlined during the trial. They say Fattah was aided in his endeavors by current and former staffers who ran his district office or the nonprofits; by Vederman, who now lives in Palm Beach, Florida; and by political consultants Greg Naylor and Thomas Lindenfeld, who pleaded guilty.
Four co-defendants also faced numerous charges.
- Fattah's former chief of staff, Bonnie Bowser, was found guilty on 5 of 21 counts she faced.
- Vederman was found guilty on all counts against him.
- Political consultant Robert Brand was found guilty on all counts against him.
- Former Fattah aide Karen Nicholas was found guilty on some of her counts.
The four-week trial concluded quicker than most observers expected and did not involve any bombshell testimony or evidence entered by prosecutors and defense attorneys. [[383818021, C]]
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The guilty verdict leaves Fattah's remaining days in office in question.
"This charge cost him his reelection. He’d been an 11-term Congressman and did a lot of things for his constituents when he was in office," said Howard Bruce Klein, a former federal prosecutor. "So I would say it’s a sad ending for a public servant who made scholarships available for thousands of students over the years, but now has come to a very unhappy ending, being guilty of corruption. So it’s a day for the Congressman, it’s a sad day for his constituents and it’s a sad day for Philadelphia."
Members of the jury didn't comment as they left court Tuesday afternoon.
Fattah's son Chaka "Chip" Fattah Jr. was also found guilty of federal fraud charges.