Congressman Chaka Fattah charged with corruption, fraud

Chaka Fattah © Michael Buckner / Getty Images
Federal prosecutors have charged Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) with a racketeering conspiracy over misuse of campaign funds, bribery and money laundering. Fattah was a top Democrat on the congressional subcommittee in charge of funding law enforcement.

As the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Science and Justice, Fattah oversaw the funding of the FBI and federal prosecutors that have just indicted him. Under congressional rules, he had to give up the post after being charged.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the charges against Fattah “deeply saddening,” in a statement on Wednesday, adding that "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."

Fattah has a long history of advocacy for youth mentoring programs. Earlier this year, he was one of the key backers of President Barack Obama’s initiative called ‘My Brother’s Keeper,’ aimed at improving opportunities for black and Latino youth.

In a 29-count indictment, federal officials allege that Fattah, and four of his associates engaged in a “racketeering conspiracy” and other crimes, including bribery, fraud, falsification of records, making false statements to a financial institution, and money laundering.

US Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced the charges Wednesday, naming four other conspirators: Florida lobbyist Herbert Vederman, Fattah's congressional district director Bonnie Bowser, Robert Brand, and Karen Nicholas. Fattah's wife, a news anchor at the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia, was named as an unindicted co-conspirator who actively participated in the bribery scheme.

The indictment alleges that Fattah and his co-conspirators borrowed $1 million for the 2007 mayoral campaign in Philadelphia. After losing the election, Fattah is said to have returned the $400,000 to the donor, and repaid the remainder through using his own non-profit to channel charitable and federal grant funds. The conspirators created sham contracts and false accounting entries, tax returns and campaign finance disclosure statements in order to hide the scheme, prosecutors say.

Four other schemes are named in the indictment. In one, Fattah reportedly tried to steer a $15 million federal grant to a campaign consultant in order to discharge $130,000 in debt he owed. In another, he channeled campaign funds through a consultant to repay $23,000 worth of student loans for his son, Chaka "Chip" Fattah Jr, between 2007 and 2011.

Fattah is also accused of trying to secure Vederman an ambassadorship or an appointment to the US Trade Commission, with the $18,000 bribe Vederman reportedly paid falsely reported as payment for a nonexistent car sale. Also, some $50,000 in federal grant funds were funneled to Nicholas through Fattah’s Educational Advancement Alliance (EAA) for a conference on higher education that never took place.

“The public expects their elected officials to act with honesty and integrity,” US Attorney Memeger said announcing the indictment. “By misusing campaign funds, misappropriating government funds, accepting bribes, and committing bank fraud, as alleged in the Indictment, Congressman Fattah and his co-conspirators have betrayed the public trust and undermined faith in government.”

Fattah has denied the charges, saying that he has “never been involved in any wrongdoing, any unlawful activity and any misappropriation of federal funds,” but rather "spent my time helping people."

"This is not deflategate, alright?” he told reporters, referring to a US sports scandal that remains in the headlines. “This is a normal issue of which there are allegations after a very long running eight-year investigation.”

Even though several of his associates were already charged and the investigation was known to the public at the time, Philadelphians re-elected Fattah with 88 percent of the vote last November.