Chaka Fattah Jr. says he’s not all that concerned about the decades he could spend behind bars.
The 32-year-old son of longtime Philly Congressman Chaka Fattah is facing a long list of federal charges of bank and tax fraud while the people once closest to him testify this week that for years he used others’ money to pad a luxurious lifestyle he couldn’t afford.
Things like a condo at the Ritz Carlton, a BMW for himself, an Audi for his girlfriend, designer suits from Boyd’s, Cole Haan shoes and thousands of dollars in bottle service at VIP clubs and racked-up tabs at the Capital Grille.
“Yeah, I had a good lifestyle,” Fattah conceded in an interview during a break in testimony Thursday morning. “I also took care of a lot of people.”
But is he concerned about how the testimony comes across?
“Not at all,” he says. “How does it look?”
Thursday marked the fourth day of testimony in the federal case against Fattah Jr., who elected to represent himself before the court without much assistance.
While operating as his own attorney, on Thursday Fattah restlessly sifted through piles of notes or scrolled through his phone, a study in nervous energy. Sometimes, he’d stand and object to the prosecutor’s line of questioning, and sit back down after being unable to identify a subject of the objection. At one point, he asked a former PR representative to read aloud nearly two entire profiles about him and his lifestyle; he was aiming to demonstrate simply that she had helped him get such articles written.
Representing himself also means Fattah Jr. is cross examining and questioning people once close to him like his ex-roommate, a man who Fattah told Billy Penn during the trial break “is completely just making things up on the stand.”
The ex-roommate and former business partner, Matthew Amato, testified Wednesday he cooperated with prosecutors by wearing a wire and eventually pleading guilty to charges that he schemed with Fattah to secure loans for sham companies and then pocket the cash.
Together in 2005, Amato and Fattah created one of Fattah’s companies, American Royalty, a luxury concierge service in which clients paid a flat yearly rate of somewhere around $24,000 and, in return, were promised things like courtside tickets to Sixers games, rides in private jets, reservations at the best restaurants and VIP spots at the hottest nightclubs.
Amato said Wednesday that the business was basically “made up,” also saying that on most days Fattah could be found in his apartment “watching Law and Order, laying on the couch, and eating a Fiesta Pizza.”
On Thursday, two women close to Fattah — one an ex-girlfriend and one a former PR representative — testified that they’d each only ever met one client of American Royalty: a man Fattah called “Uncle Mikhail.” Neither woman had ever met a client who paid $24,000 a year for concierge services.
Fattah said after the testimony that prosecutors were “playing the smokescreen game.”
“The government is completely incorrect that under the law, you have to have all these clients to run a business,” he said. “Who cares how many clients I have?”
He also compared his companies to ones like Facebook and Google — massive corporations that were once started in a basement or a dorm room. Corporations that were also once just ideas.
“Google started in someone’s basement, and then it moved to a garage,” he said. “This is what I’m saying about [Facebook CEO Mark] Zuckerberg. He just sits around in Facebook’s office too, and no one says he’s a fraud.”
On Thursday, Fattah’s ex-girlfriend Ashley Douglas appeared on the witness stand and told the court that saving money and paying taxes never seemed like “priorities” for Fattah Jr., who had the idea to move from Old City to the Ritz Carlton while the two dated for about four years.
But Fattah says Douglas and he “will always be close no matter what.”
“I think that’s a little different than my ex roommate who pled guilty,” he said. “My girlfriend’s done nothing wrong. What she’s talking about on the stand is just typical things that couples discuss, and that will be clear when all is said and done.”
Prior to the women in Fattah’s life, the witness stand was occupied by Gregory Naylor, the former aide to Congressman Fattah who pleaded guilty last year to illegal campaign finance schemes and using campaign funds to pay off Fattah Jr.’s college tuition.
Naylor said Thursday that he filled out tax forms indicating Fattah Jr. completed work for his political and educational consulting firm in 2007 and 2008, though he told prosecutors Fattah Jr. didn’t actually complete any work for him.
The former aide also said he routinely wrote checks to Drexel University and Sallie Mae to pay off debt owed on Fattah Jr.’s college education, under the direction of Congressman Fattah. That money, according to federal prosecutors who have charged Congressman Fattah with racketeering and other corruption charges, came from funds earmarked for Fattah’s various campaigns.
In questioning Naylor, Fattah Jr. attempted to draw connections between a number of conversations he had with Naylor that Fattah contends could be construed as work because, during those conversations, he provided Naylor with “marketing ideas.” When questioned by Fattah, Naylor admitted his consulting firm did receive a benefit from his conversations with Fattah.
But when Naylor was questioned by prosecutors, he still said Fattah Jr. never worked for him and that the tax forms were falsified. Clearly rattled, Fattah Jr. asked a long-winded question that backtracked and meandered. The U.S. Attorney objected to his question: “Not… understandable.”
The judge agreed.
Testimony in the case continues this week.