Representative Chaka Fattah, a Democrat from Pennsylvania and a long-time influence in education policy, has been charged on 29 federal counts including bribery, money-laundering, falsification of records, and multiple counts of bank fraud.
Fatah, an 11-term Democrat whose run for mayor of Philadelphia in 2007 was wrought with controversy, also faces 16 charges related to conspiracy, mail fraud, and falsification of records, each of which could result in sentences of up to 20 years in prison. These, along with six charges which include bank fraud, carry a combined 100 years in prison if he is convicted, write Jesse Byrnes and Mike Lillis of The Hill.
“We’ve moved from an investigation to an actual allegation,” Fattah said at the Capitol. “I think I’ll stand by my original position, which was, as an elected official, I’ve never been involved in any illegal activity or misappropriation of funds.”
“We’ll have to live with the judgment that they make,” he added, referring to his constituents.
Only a few weeks ago Fattah traveled with President Obama to Philadelphia, where the president gave a speech on criminal justice reform. The Obama administration said the president was not aware of the impending indictment at the time of the trip to Philadelphia.
After the announcement on Wednesday, Fattah stepped down from his position of senior appropriator and ranking member of the committee’s Commerce and Justice Departments subpanel. Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said that Fattah and others:
“… embarked on a wide-ranging conspiracy involving bribery, concealment of unlawful campaign contributions and theft of charitable and federal funds to advance their own personal interests.”
Caldwell continued by stating that betrayal by an elected official who has the trust and confidence of the public forces the department to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the official is held accountable. She added that public corruption takes a heavy toll on democracy by undermining people’s belief in their elected leaders, who should be committed to serving the public interest and not to “lining their own pockets.”
Four others have been indicted along with Fattah, including Herbert Vederman, 69, a lobbyist based in Palm Beach, Fla.; Bonnie Bowser, 59, Fattah’s Philadelphia-based district director; Robert Brand, 69, of Philadelphia; and Karen Nicholas, 57, of Williamstown, N.J.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) praised Fattah’s “commitment to the middle class” and said that she found the news “deeply saddening.”
“Congressman Fattah has been a tireless and effective advocate for America’s hard-working families across more than 20 years of distinguished service in the House,” Pelosi said.
“Congressman Fattah has rightly stepped down from his position as Ranking Member on the House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee pending the resolution of this matter.”
The indictment, 85 pages in length, accuses Fattah and his four associates of initiating a series of schemes to cover-up how money was borrowed and repaid, and of falsifying documents in the process, reports Eric Bradner of CNN.
“ I want to spend my time helping millions more,” he said. “I’m going to let my attorney — a small one-man shop in Philadelphia — handle this matter. It’s obviously going to be important to my constituents that this matter not be a distraction in terms of my work, and I’m going to try to have it not be a distraction.”
Prosecutors point out that there were several schemes taking place at the same time, including the use of federal grant monies and charitable contributions to Fattah’s educational foundation to repay $600,000 of a $1 million loan given to Fatah by a wealthy campaign supporter.
Fattah is also being accused of paying a $23,000 student loan debt of his son’s with campaign funds. When asked about this allegation, Fattah said that he had helped millions of young people go to college.