PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) — Former Pennsylvania Congressman Chaka Fattah will be spending the next 10 years behind bars after a federal judge sentenced him on Monday on charges of racketeering, fraud and money laundering.
Earlier this year, former Rep. Chaka Fattah, 60, was convicted of misspending government grants and charity money to fund his campaign and personal expenses, even as he and his TV anchor wife earned more than $500,000 a year.
A jury this year found that Fattah took an illegal $1 million loan from a wealthy friend to prop up his failed 2007 campaign for Philadelphia mayor. He then repaid some of it with federal grant money from NASA that he had steered to an education nonprofit run by loyal former staffers.
The nonprofit efforts — including a NASA-funded mobile science classroom emblazoned with Fattah's name that roamed Philadelphia during the mayoral campaign — helped promote Fattah's political career, prosecutors said in their sentencing memo.
The jury convicted him of leading a five-person racketeering enterprise that included the loyal aides and political consultants who did his bidding, co-mingling campaign, nonprofit and government funds and using them as directed for Fattah's personal and political needs.
For example, Fattah used $23,000 in nonprofit funds to repay his son's college loans and took an $18,000 bribe to try to help a friend become an ambassador. He even lobbied President Barack Obama on the friend's behalf, to no avail. Fattah and his wife used the $18,000 for a down payment on a Poconos vacation home. They told authorities the money covered the friend's purchase of a Porsche owned by Fattah's wife, but the Porsche never left their garage.
Fattah insists the Justice Department, though led by fellow Democrats, has been out to get him and his family for years.
As he awaited his sentence, Fattah told the judge he had mixed emotions: saddened to find himself in court but grateful for the work he was able to do over 37 years as a state and federal lawmaker.
"I've helped tens of millions of people," said Fattah. "(That) has nothing to do with the fact that I've been found on the wrong side of these questions by a jury."
Fattah told reporters he respected the court's decision.
"This is a circumstance that now that the court has made a determination, this phase of this process has come to a conclusion and again I want to thank my legal team and I want to thank the support of my family and staff and friends through this very tough time," Fattah said.
His son, Chaka Fattah Jr. is serving a five-year prison term in an overlapping fraud case that went to trial last year. Chaka "Chip" Fattah Jr., who never finished college, was convicted of using fraudulently obtained business loans to fund his jet-set lifestyle.
Fattah, who earned $174,000 as a congressman, is married to longtime Philadelphia news anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah. They have two school-age children. Chenault-Fattah, who is also a lawyer, spent 25 years with WCAU-TV before she resigned after the indictment named her a participant in the bribery scheme. She was never charged and has denied wrongdoing.
Two of Fattah's political consultants pleaded guilty in the case and testified against him. The four others convicted at trial will be sentenced later this week. They include former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Herbert Vederman, of Palm Springs, Florida, who had sought the ambassadorship.
U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger, who helped prosecute Fattah, says he hopes this sentence is a warning bell for other dishonest politicians.
"Some folks lose sight of the fact they're here to serve the public and they may engage in certain activity to line their pocketbooks and live that life they think they're entitled to and the thing is you have to be careful about what you do," Memeger said.
It was the second-longest prison sentence handed down to a member of Congress.
Joe DeFelice, chairman of the Philadelphia Republican Party, said in a statement that they "welcome" Fattah's lengthy prison sentence.
"We welcome a lengthy prison sentence for former Rep. Chaka Fattah, who ranks among the most canny and shameless denizens of Philadelphia's Democratic culture of corruption, and serves as an example of the arrogance of incumbency," DeFelice said. "We hope that the sentence will be lived out and not stretched out by years of appeals, and that the Fattah family will fade into the night once all of the pertinent FBI probes surrounding them have been carried out."
Four co-defendants who helped Fattah move government grants and other money between his campaign, the nonprofits and his consultants will be sentenced throughout the week.
Fattah used the money on campaign and personal expenses, the jury found. He put $23,000 in nonprofit funds toward his son's college loans and took an $18,000 bribe to try to help a friend become an ambassador. Fattah and his wife used that money for a down payment on a Poconos vacation home. They told authorities it covered the friend's purchase of a Porsche owned by Fattah's wife, but the Porsche never left their garage.
Fattah had insisted the Justice Department had been out to get him and his family for years. He plans to appeal the conviction.
"There are so many people in this courtroom and outside that owe their success — and also are able to serve the community so much better — as a result of the congressman's influence, support and inspiration," said Joseph Quinones, a one-time high school dropout who said that Fattah's encouragement led him to earn a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.
The congressman's son is serving a five-year prison term in an overlapping fraud case that went to trial last year. Chaka "Chip" Fattah Jr. was convicted of using fraudulently obtained business loans to fund his jet-set lifestyle.
The elder Fattah, who earned $174,000 as a congressman, is married to longtime Philadelphia news anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah. They have two school-age children. Chenault-Fattah spent 25 years with WCAU-TV before she resigned after the indictment named her a participant in the bribery scheme. She was never charged and has denied wrongdoing.
Fattah's co-defendants include former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Herbert Vederman, of Palm Springs, Florida, who had sought the ambassadorship. Two political consultants pleaded guilty and testified at trial.
Prosecutors had asked for a 17- to 21-year sentence. The judge gave Fattah until Jan. 25 to report to prison.
Fattah, who began his career in the Pennsylvania statehouse and entered Congress in 1995, lost the spring Democratic primary days before his trial began and resigned after his conviction in June. Former state Rep. Dwight Evans, a fellow Democrat, now holds his seat.
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