After years of investigations and speculation, Chaka Fattah has finally gone from an embattled congressman to charged congressman.
Federal investigators have accused Fattah, a U.S. Congressman representing Philadelphia on his 11th consecutive term, of illegally misappropriating federal, campaign and charitable funds totaling into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in a 29-count indictment. The charges stem from a series of questionable earmarks steered toward his friends and even back from his time unsuccessful run for Philadelphia mayor in 2007.
“The public expects their elected officials to act with honesty and integrity,” said U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger in a press release. “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.”
Here’s a breakdown of what Fattah allegedly did to get the Feds after him.
The 2007 mayoral election
Fattah famously flamed out of the 2007 mayoral election, going from front-runner to fourth place in four months. During that election, as Fattah struggled to raise funds, and the Feds allege he secured an “illegal” $1 million loan late in the campaign from a “wealthy individual” who was not identified. Feds say alleges that Fattah illegally paid back $600,000 of the $1 million fine through the Educational Advancement Alliance, a nonprofit he founded.
On top of that, Fattah has also been accused of using 2007 mayoral campaign funds to repay $23,000 worth of student loans for his son, Chaka Fattah Jr., by funneling the money through a political consulting company.
These allegations from the Feds match what former Fattah political strategist Greg Naylor said in a court filing last year.
Bribery from a lobbyist
Feds say Fattah accepted an $18,000 bribe from lobbyist Herbert Vederman, who wanted a position as an ambassador or on the U.S. Trade Commission. To conceal the bribe, they tried to make it look like Fattah had sold Vederman a car.
Misuse of federal funds
The Feds also allege that former Fattah staffer Karen Nicholas accepted $50,000 in federal funds for a conference that was slated to be put on with the Educational Advancement Alliance. The conference never took place, and Feds say the money was instead used to pay a political consultant and an attorney.
Now, with a recap of our Chaka Fattah 101 post, here are some other common questions asked about Fattah.
If his political dealings have been so shady, why did he win about 88 percent of the vote in 2014?
Fattah, himself, put it best way back in 1982, when he was elected for the first time. Racial tension was high in Philadelphia given the Mumia case and years of demographic change and unrest in West Philadelphia and when he unseated the white incumbent in the Democratic primary, he knew he’d still dominate against the Republicans. Fattah told the Inquirer, “Even those people who can’t pronounce my name would rather have a Democrat than a Republican in this seat.” It’s been that way ever since. In 2014, before the latest and biggest accusations against him, he ran unchallenged in the Democratic primary.
What is likely to happen to him in the future?
Unless he is convicted and sent to prison soon or resigns, he’ll be in office until the 2016 election after winning in November. Given his perceived vulnerability, however, a Democrat might actually challenge him in the 2016 primary.
Chris Brennan, formerly of the Daily News, asked some local pols about Fattah’s future last fall. Nutter said he thought Fattah would be running again in two years. State senator Mike Stack felt the same way. City controller Alan Butkovitz said he didn’t expect Fattah would be running.
One other thing — what’s up with his son, Chaka Jr., aka Chip?
He was indicted in 2014 on 23 federal counts related to improper use of banks loans, false statements to banks, filing false tax returns and stealing federal funds. The federal funds part is for that 2009 earmark for Delaware Valley High School involving his father. The feds have accused Fattah Jr. of stealing some of those federal funds.
The rest of the charges: Fattah Jr. allegedly used business loans to pay off personal debts at Sugarhouse and Harrah’s casinos, rather than use the funds for his consulting business, 259 Strategies. The Feds say Fattah Jr. defrauded banks of a total of $206,000.
Fattah Jr. filed a lawsuit this year against the IRS, FBI and Justice Department accusing them of leaking his investigation to the media, causing him undue negative publicity. Fattah released a statement to the Inquirer after his son’s indictment saying, “I am confident the facts will clear his name. I love him and stand by him today and every day.”