A federal judge sentenced former U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah to spend a decade in prison and pay $614,000 in restitution to victims of corruption charges on which the longtime legislator was convicted this summer.
For 22 years, Fattah represented Pennsylvania’s second congressional district and has long been one of the top politicians in the city of Philadelphia. In open court today, moments before handing down his sentence, U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III called Fattah’s crimes “astonishing” and said “political corruption in high places is a grave matter.
“Those in high places,” Bartle said, “will certainly know what happened in this courtroom today.”
The judge said Fattah is to surrender into federal custody on Jan. 25; however, his attorneys have indicated they will appeal his conviction and asked for bail pending that appeal.
Fattah said during a brief statement to the court that he regrets some of his decisions that led to criminal charges, saying the investigation and the trial has been the “most disappointing” event in his life. He first asked the judge for leniency for his co-defendants, and then said he has “regret” for his constituents.
But he then went on to thank his attorneys, family and friends who have stood by him since being charged last year. He also told the judge that he’s helped “tens of millions of people” over the years, but admitted that “has nothing to do with” the crimes with which he was found convicted of.
Ten people testified as character witnesses in Fattah’s defense Monday, including his brother-in-law Mark Chenault and his former chief of staff (and then School Reform Commission chair) Sandra Dungee Glenn. Denise Crarey, who said Fattah helped her while she was facing medical issues, channeled Ralph Waldo Emerson in saying that “every man has the right to be valued by his best moments.”
“Consider the totality of his life, of his good deeds and of his best moments,” she said. That testimony came in addition to more than 200 letters of support filed to the judge on Fattah’s behalf.
Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Fattah to 17 to 22 years behind bars, which would have been the longest prison sentence ever for a United States congressman facing corruption charges. Monday, prosecutors emphasized he was convicted of criminal activity that took place over the course of seven years and that “this was not a hiccup.”
In June, Fattah was found guilty of dozens of counts of corruption stemming from charges filed in 2015 that came down from the FBI after an eight-year long investigation into the congressman’s financial dealings. And while 22 counts of corruption were dropped by U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III in October, Fattah was still convicted of RICO, or a violation of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly called racketeering.
Fattah, a 60-year-old 11-term congressman, lost his bid for re-election during the primary when he was defeated by longtime state Rep. Dwight Evans. While Fattah had been charged at that point, he had not yet been convicted. He resigned his seat in Congress two days after his conviction in June.
Throughout the weeks-long trial this summer, 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.” Through the trial, Fattah steadfastly maintained his innocence.
The Department of Justice said 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.
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. Fattah Sr.’s 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 and convicted of participating 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. Other close associates of Fattah’s will be sentenced this week.