Pennsylvania Congressman Convicted on Corruption Charges

By - July 1, 2016
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US Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA) was convicted this week on bribery and federal racketeering charges. This puts an ugly stamp on the long career of one of the longest serving members of Congress. In all likelihood, he will end up doing prison time.

However at this time, Fattah, who is 59, has not stated if he will resign his office.

After the conviction, Fattah made a public statement that this has been a very hard time for his family, and that he respected the decision, even if it was not what they hoped for.

The verdict came down after a month of testimony where federal prosecutors painted Fattah as a very arrogant congressman who turned to the money of taxpayers, charities and the wealthy to fund his lifestyle.

He seemed to dismiss most of the allegations early on and smirked during the trial, but he did not show emotion when the jury foreman read the decision that convicted him on all 22 counts, which included money laundering and fraud.

Four members of Fattah’s inner circle – including Herbert Vederman, a former Philadelphia deputy mayor under Ed Rendell – also were convicted on several counts that were related to crimes they committed to advance Fattah’s career in politics.

The sentencing date for all of the men is in early October.

Jurors did not comment on the decision when they left the courthouse, but prosecutors praised the decision that was reached by the panel of nine women and three men. Deliberations took 21 days.

According to US Attorney Zane Memeger, Chaka Fattah betrayed the public trust with their crimes. He added that the verdict makes it clear that the citizens of PA expect all of their public officials to act honestly and with integrity.

Under current House rules, Fattah is not required to give up his office, but he may not vote or participate in any work on the committees to which he belongs in Congress.

Even before the conviction, it was a rough year for Fattah. He came to Washington DC over 20 years ago and became a powerful member of Congress, and held a highly regarded assignment on the Appropriations Committee.

He also lost his bid for reelection to another Democrat in a primary last April.

His wife, a news anchor for NBC in Philadelphia, who was not charged in the case, saw her career hit the skids this year too when she was linked to an illegal sale of her Porsche. It was a transaction that was supposed to cover up a bribe to her husband.

His son also was sentenced to five years in prison this year for bank and tax fraud; he got loans fraudulently to fund a luxurious lifestyle.

While his son’s crimes were mostly related to a taste for fancy clothes, cars and apartments, most of Fattah Sr.’s crimes were because of money he owed to creditors after he tried to become Philadelphia mayor in 2007. That left him with hundreds of thousands in debts he was trying desperately to pay off.

One of his major crimes was stealing funds from an education non profit organization to repay a $1 million campaign loan that was illegal.

Two of Fattah’s allies also were convicted of racketeering and several other federal charges for laundering stolen funds through the organizations they managed.

Fattah also was found guilty of misdirecting federal grant money to a fraudulent nonprofit to pay off one of his political strategists. Also, Bonnie Bowser, 60, Fattah’s former campaign treasurer, was charged with forging campaign finance documents and other documents to cover his crimes. She was convicted of bank fraud and money laundering, but the jury rejected many counts against her, including racketeering. Her lawyer argued that she was following the orders of her boss.

About Racketeering

Racketeering is prosecuted under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). This law was created because there were loopholes in federal law that allowed some crime bosses to evade prosecution by not associating with the criminal acts that they underlings had been ordered to do.

RICO states that people may not acquire, establish, or operate any business or enterprise that has income that is illegal. They also may not acquire or maintain any interest or control of a business through any type of illegal activity. RICO helps federal prosecutors more easily pursue federal charges against higher level crime figures who could otherwise avoid charges through plausible deniability.

About Money Laundering

Money laundering refers to any organized activities that are intended to convert illegal money into money that appears to have been obtained through legal sources. Criminal organizations often use legal ‘front’ businesses to create a new paper trail that allows money that was obtained by crime to be used for purchases. Money laundering charges often come with other charges, including conspiracy and racketeering.

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