Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Chaka Fattah Heads To Court

By George Anastasia
For BigTrial.net

Opening statements are scheduled for Monday in yet another Philadelphia political corruption trial.

Call this politics, payoffs and a Porsche and put lame duck Congressman Chaka Fattah Sr. at center stage. Fattah, who was defeated in the Democratic Party primary earlier this month, is in the final year of a congressional career that began in 1995.

The trial that opens Monday before U.S. District Court Judge Harvey Bartle 3d will determine whether he begins his retirement wearing a prison jump suit.

"I'm not sure how he's going to explain some of this," said a source familiar with the case. "It's going to take some gyrations."

The 29-count indictment handed up in July charged Fattah and four co-defendants with conspiracy, bribery and fraud. The government alleges that the congressman played fast and loose with federal grants and other earmarked funds, using them to pay off personal and campaign debts, including $600,000 that was spent on his failed Philadelphia mayoral campaign in 2007.

The trial is one of four political corruption cases generating headlines.

On Tuesday John H. Estey, one-time aide to Gov. Edward Rendell, pleaded guilty in an illegal campaign funding scheme that was part of an FBI sting targeting Harrisburg legislators. In a separate case, the former mayors of Reading and Allentown have emerged as targets in a federal pay-to-play investigation. And then there is South Philadelphia State Senator Larry Farnese, indicted this week in what authorities allege was a $6,000 bribery scheme to insure his election as a Democratic Party  ward leader back in 2011.

Farnese, through his lawyers, has denied the allegation which, when compared to the other political corruption cases, appears penny-ante at best. Details are still emerging, but at first blush the case may be an example of what some defense attorneys charge is federal prosecutors going above and beyond in a crusade-like campaign to ferret out corruption. (More on that later.)

The Fattah case, on the other hand, is chock full of seemingly documented examples of money earmarked for legitimate public services being funneled to benefit the congressman and/or his financial needs.

Fattah will go on trial along with Herbert Vederman, a lobbyist who was the financial director for Fattah's mayoral campaign, Robert Brand, the husband of a former Fattah staff worker, Karen Nicholas, a former staffer and the CEO of a Fattah-funded non-profit that is central to one of the corruption charges, and Bonnie Bowser, one-time chief of staff of the congressman's Philadelphia office as well as treasurer for his mayoral and congressional campaigns.

The indictment alleges the five were part of "an enterprise" that used "fraudulent and corrupt means" to further the financial interests of Fattah and that conspired to hide those activities from Justice Department investigators and the media "through means that included the falsification of documents and obstruction of justice."

Two other alleged conspirators, high-powered Washington, D.C.,-based political consultant Thomas Lindenfeld, and longtime Fattah aide Gregory Naylor have pleaded guilty to related charges and are scheduled to appear as government witnesses at the trial.

Their testimony is expected to provide one of the linchpins around which the case is built.

The government says that the case involved five different schemes. These included:

- The allegation that Fattah and other defendants used charitable and federal grant funds earmarked for Fattah's non-profit Educational Advancement Alliance (EEA) to repay a $600,000 debt from Fattah's mayoral campaign. The $600,000 included $200,000 distributed as "street money" on election day, the government contends.

-- A charge that Fattah and his associates had Lindenfeld set up a phony non-profit known as Blue Guardian and then arranged to have federal funds earmarked for that non-profit. The payments were, in fact, made to pay down political consulting fees Fattah owed Lindenfeld, according to the feds.

- An allegation that campaign funds were illegally used to pay off the college tuition debts of Chaka Fattah Jr. The congressman's son was convicted last year in an unrelated case charging him with IRS and bank fraud.

- A bribery scheme in which Vederman is accused of providing "things of value" to Fattah in exchange for Fattah's promise to try to secure an ambassadorship for Vederman or an appointment to United States Trade Commission. The scheme also allegedly involved a job for Vederman's girlfriend. Among other things, the government charges that the phony sale of a 1989 Porsche 911 by Fattah's wife, TV news anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah, to Vederman was part of the conspiracy.

- A scam in which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was duped into providing $50,000 to underwrite an EEA conference that never took place.

The trial is expected to last from six to eight weeks, although several observers predicted that it could end sooner because of Judge Bartle, a no-nonsense jurist with a reputation for fast-paced trials. Bartle is expected to address the jury at 9:30 Monday morning. The panel was selected earlier this month. Opening statements from the prosecution and defense will follow.

While much of the testimony and documented evidence will be focused on somewhat arcane matters like federal grants and campaign finance laws, the testimony of Lindenfeld, a self-made millionaire political consultant whose clients have included then U.S. Senate candidate Barrack Obama and Philadelphia mayoral candidate John Street, could provide an interesting account of what really goes on in a political campaign.

And the Vederman charges could provide more of the same.

The government alleges that the lobbyist was angling for an ambassadorship or a spot on the trade commission and funneled money to Fattah through his son. It also charges that the $18,000 he paid for the Porsche was designed so that Fattah and his wife would qualify for a mortgage on a vacation home in the Poconos.

The "car purchase" in 2012 was "a means to deceive the mortgage lender and evade...rules prohibiting gifts from lobbyists and requiring disclosure on Fattah's financial disclosure form." Instead, the government contends, "Fattah, Bowser, Vederman and Fattah's spouse falsely styled Vederman's $18,000 payment as having been made as part of a car sale."

The government alleges that "Vederman never took possession of the vehicle" and that "the Fattahs continued to possess, drive and insure the Porsche well after the purported `sale' to Vederman" The indictment noted that the car was still parked on the Fattah's property 26 months after the sale took place.

In July after the indictment was unsealed, Chenault-Fattah wrote a letter to her employer, news station NBC10,  in which she said the sale of the Porsche was not, as the government charged, a sham. Instead, she said she continued to house and insure the car because Vederman did not have a place to keep it. Chenault-Fattah took a leave leave from the station when the indictment was made public. She is no longer employed by NBC10.

The misdirection of funds, albeit on a much smaller scale, appears to be at the heart of the case against Larry Farnese as well.

The indictment announced on Tuesday alleges that in 2011 he made a $6,000 donation to Bard College to help fund a study abroad semester for the daughter of a Democrat committeewoman whose vote he needed to insure his election as ward leader

The quid pro quo, however, is questionable. In a statement released by Mark Sheppard, Farnese's lawyer, that appeared in Wednesday's Inquirer, Sheppard noted that "The government makes these charges despite the fact that the donation was properly reported almost five years ago, was given some five months before a unanimous ward vote in which the committeewoman did not even participate; and no other committeeperson has claimed to have been offered anything of value by Sen. Farnese."

So, taking Sheppard at his word, the government has indicted Farnese for making a college donation to a school attended by the daughter of a committeewoman who did not cast a ballot in a ward election in which Farnese was unanimously elected.

Seems like a bit of a stretch on the government's part. But maybe the feds have a distorted view when it comes to the State Senate's First District. This is the same district once represented by Vincent J. Fumo and before Fumo by Henry J. "Buddy" Cianfrani. Both were convicted of serious corruption charges.

Now Farnese holds that seat. Maybe an indictment comes with the territory.

George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.

10 comments:

  1. How could the Fattahs deceive a mortgage company by being $18,000 richer ? That does not make sense.

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  2. Well for a change can.t blame the race card here. No one to blame but the person staring back at him in the mirror and cost his wife her Job to boot. Talk about a man on a ego trip. Greed will bite u in the ass sooner or later.

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  3. looks like renee will be dancing at club onyx

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  4. It is amazing how Ballard,Spahr escapes being part of this and many other cases as it is clear that Rendell and partners ran a criminal conspiracy and is the godfather of Pay to Play.

    When Rendell had Estey operate as his bagman, they had the opportunity to indict others, but allowed him to fall on the sword rather than implicate the real players.

    RICO should be applied to their method of operating and would finally define the real gangsters in the justice system, not the potato chip illiterates that you George have lionized all these years.

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  5. Not looking too good for him. Ruined a political career for a few bucks.

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  6. Its very hard to separate truth from fiction with the justice department, as they are very good at inventing crimes. There really is no justice to be had in a court room, once the federal prosecutors decide your guilty ,with a lot of help from the media to sway public opinion and the jurors, you have little chance of being found innocent. Will keep checking this site for updates as the mainstream media in the region takes their notes from the prosecutors. Hopefully there will be a reporter or two from the Washington Post paying attention to report the news as well.

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  7. Maybe He Can Show The Ratfellas How Do Schemes!!!...

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  8. Who is He ? Fattah, Estey, Farnese or the federal prosecutor bringing the charges ? The word "scheme" belongs to the feds, I see they branched out with the word "enterprise". Scheme really goes a long way in the courtroom, but terribly overused on the part of the feds. The word has sort of lost its luster,not really instilling the shock into the jurors as it once did, as everyone is running a scheme according to the feds. Some suggestions might be devious plot, game plan, incentive program, calculated plan, conspire, contrive, as scheme seems to carry little weight anymore.

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  9. I wonder if the media realizes how big a part they play in condemning a defendant for the prosecution ? Its unconscionable for the prosecution to entrap its citizens in schemes concocted by the FBI and prosecution for the purpose of humiliating and bankrupting them into a false confession. I don't want a justice system that cares so little about human beings that they trap and imprison a defendant for their own advancement. Its much the "Apprentice" mentality , "your caught you go to jail", we need to stop this behavior, the public is sick of it. Stop the lies, stop the hatred, we deserve better from our government . If the feds have an issue with a person, talk to them, don't threaten them or persuade them to trap other citizen for a lighter sentence ,these strong arm tactics are turning all of us into an angry mob. The media needs to see through this type of "justice". There will be no one left that has any faith in anyone in government and that includes the justice department. Are we so mindless that we think the justice department is infallible, that their methods are the only way to stop an injustice ? We have to think for ourselves, we need a better way to treat one another. Not special treatment , humane treatment. Taking the dignity from our fellow citizens hurts us all. I don't want a government that hides behind the shield of the United States Justice Department to take an more liberties from us, the American people need to speak up and out against entrapment and the ultimate ruination of families. This is not working, we are at a point were we are all so happy to see one another fall and be disgraced, were does it end ? I know were it starts with a media that stops being part of the prosecution and a justice department that wants to see America continue as a humane society. Not a justice department that rules the day.

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  10. Another Ozzie Myers???

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