A federal jury has convicted Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah of corruption after three days of deliberations on 29 counts. He was found guilty on all of them.
The jury found Fattah and three co-defendants guilty under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, a law passed to fight organized crime. They were also convicted of conspiracy to commit RICO.
Fattah will be sentenced on October 4. In a statement, Fattah said “While today’s
outcome isn’t what we had hoped I respect our nation’s judicial system,” according to an Inquirer reporter.
Throughout the weeks-long trial, prosecutors outlined what they called a “white-collar crime spree” orchestrated by Fattah while he coolly denied their allegations, reportedly smiling throughout the trial, even when the prosecutor criticized him for his “arrogance.”
Fattah, a 59-year-old Philadelphia native and 11-term congressman, faced 29 criminal counts stemming from a lengthy eight-year federal investigation that he characterized as a witch hunt from the beginning. He has steadfastly maintained his innocence.
The Department of Justice claims Fattah and his associates took part in a number of illegal schemes, including taking an illegal $1 million loan to pad his campaign for Philadelphia mayor in 2007 — a loan the feds said he paid back with charitable and federal grant funds. The FBI also said Fattah took bribes from a lobbyist in exchange for pushing for an ambassadorship for the lobbyist and also used campaign funds to pay off his son’s student loan debt.
The charges filed against Fattah last year cost the congressman the seat he’s held in the U.S. House of Representatives for 22 years. He’d risen in the ranks to hold a seat on the powerful Committee on Appropriations and even predicted earlier this year that he was next in line to take over as the Democratic chairman of the committee.
He also said he wanted to be in Congress for another decade or longer.
But those dreams were shattered in April when long-time Philadelphia politician Dwight Evans, a state representative from Northwest Philly, beat him in the Democratic primary. Since 1995, Fattah was a shoo-in for his seat representing the second congressional district, winning landslide after landslide every two years without facing a formidable opponent.
Things were different this time around. Evans had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to take on Fattah, whose campaign coffers were depleted because most of the money he raised was spent on paying lawyers.
He struggled to raise money from typical supporters because the criminal charges hung over his head, causing big donors in the city to think again before donating to Fattah. And his support was divided. Though the Philadelphia Democratic Party endorsed Fattah, both the mayor and the governor endorsed Evans.
“Some of the major players in the city leadership maybe are not embracing me because allegations have been made about me,” Fattah said in an interview with Billy Penn in March. “I wouldn’t trade for a day some very well-meaning, well-intentioned person who might be at the pillar of the city’s civic leadership for having working families stay with me.”
As the first couple thousand votes were counted, Fattah led — but then Evans amassed more as returns came in from the voter-rich Northwest portion of the city.
“Then it tightened, and then it became pretty obvious,” Fattah told Billy Penn after the primary. “I’ve been through this a number of times. I’ve run in 36 elections. I’ve lost four and I’ve won 32. You remember the ones that the numbers don’t add up for you.”
Fattah’s family has fallen with him. His son, Chaka Fattah Jr., is sitting in a federal prison cell after being convicted of defrauding the School District of Philadelphia and running an illegitimate business. His wife, Renee Chenault-Fattah, recently left her job as an anchor at NBC10 — a position she held for two decades.
Other members of Chaka Fattah’s inner circle were implicated in illegal schemes, including Gregory Naylor, who pleaded guilty last year after being charged in connection with illegally using campaign and federal dollars during Fattah’s 2007 mayoral run.
And despite denying the charges against him, he said earlier this year that they provided a “clarifying moment.”
“Sometimes when you’re flying on Air Force One and some corporate CEO is waiting to greet you and introduce you and this and that, but they’re really not talking to you. They’re kind of dealing with the position,” Fattah said. “Now I know it’s actually people in the barbershops and the beauty salons. These are the people that have been voting for me and praying for me for all these years.”