Monday, May 16, 2016

Defense: Crimes Were Committed, But Not By Defendants

By George Anastasia
For BigTrial.net

A lawyer for Congressman Chaka Fattah Sr. conceded that the government had uncovered evidence of fraud, theft and corruption in the racketeering case that opened today against the 11-term congressman and four co-defendants.

But those crimes, attorney Mark Lee told a federal jury, had been committed by the government's two key witnesses, longtime Fattah associate Gregory Naylor and high-powered Washington, DC, political consultant Thomas Lindenfeld.

"Congressman Fattah had nothing to do with what the government alleges," Lee said in an opening statement before a packed courtroom and an 18-member (six are alternates) jury panel that will hear testimony in what is expected to be an eight-week trial.

Lee's 30-minute opening outlined a theme that was repeated, in varying degrees, by the other four defense attorneys as well: No one is disputing the essential facts in the case. What is being disputed is the government's interpretation of those facts.

Robert Welsh, the lawyer for Herbert Vederman, said the government was "cherry picking events out of context."

Barry Gross, who represents Robert Brand, said the prosecution had come to a "flawed conclusion" based in part on a rush to judgment. "Sometimes the truth gets in the way of a good story," said Gross, who like Welsh, is a former federal prosecutor.

The prosecution, on the other hand, told the jury that Fattah and his co-defendants were willing participants in a conspiracy designed to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds and federal grants to cover Fattah's political and personal debts.

Fattah, who was first elected to congress in 1995, "abused his office and his oath over and over again . . . to serve his own interests," said Assistant U. S. Attorney Paul L. Gray.

The defendants "left a trail of false documents" while taking part in a conspiracy that included bribery, fraud and money-laundering, the prosecutor said, adding that Fattah "cheated his way out of paying campaign debts" and used Vederman, a wealthy lobbyist and long-time friend, "as a human ATM machine."

Gray, in a one-hour presentation, told the jury the government's case is built around a documented trail of misappropriated and misapplied funds. "Omissions" and "falsifications," he said, were the hallmarks of the conspiracy.

"This case is about theft, fraud and corruption," he told the jury.

The case, developed by the FBI and IRS, focuses on what the government alleges was an illegal flow of funds that began with an unreported $1 million loan to Fattah's failed 2007 Philadelphia mayoral campaign. The illegal flow included bribes and illegal payments to bolster a mortgage application for a vacation home in the Poconos that Fattah and his wife purchased; payments to cover tuition bills owed by his son, Chaka Fattah Jr.; and the misapplication of funds earmarked for non-profit educational program diverted to cover Fattah's personal and political needs.

In fact, Gray said, Fattah used some of money to pay taxes he owed to the city of Philadelphia.

The prosecutor told the jury that testimony and evidence would offer an "inside view" of a political organization that engaged in a racketeering conspiracy. But the convoluted schemes and money trails that form the basis for the case even gave Gray some problems. The prosecutor paused and restarted one explanation after apparently confusing companies and earmarks in one of the alleged scams.

The first witness called to testify was one of the FBI agents who headed the investigation. The prosecution opened by introducing dozens of documents that established a paper trail of cash flowing into and out of accounts as part of fraudulent schemes alleged in a 29-count indictment handed up in July.

Fattah, who was defeated in a primary election in April, appeared calm and relaxed as he sat at the defense table  with the lawyers and other defendants. The 16th floor courtroom of Judge Harvey Bartle 3d was packed for the morning session. The crowd thinned slightly for the afternoon proceedings. The trial will resume Tuesday morning.

Fattah is being tried along with Vederman, a lobbyist who was the financial director for Fattah's mayoral campaign; Robert Brand, who headed a company linked to what the government alleges was the illegal flow of cash; Karen Nicholas, a former staffer and the CEO of Educational Advancement Alliance (EEA), 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 conspired to hide those activities from Justice Department investigators and the media "through means that included the falsification of documents and obstruction of justice."

Gray outlined five different schemes that the prosecution contends were at the heart of the conspiracy. These included:

-- The use of charitable and federal grant funds earmarked for Fattah's non-profit Educational Advancement Alliance to repay a $600,000 debt from Fattah's mayoral campaign. The debt was what remained from the illegal and unreported $1 million loan Lindenfeld had arranged after being hired by Fattah to work on that campaign. .

-- 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. The $18,000 Vederman paid for the car was used to bolster the Fattahs' mortgage application for their vacation home. Vederman never took possession of the Porsche, the government contends.

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

Gray called an ambassadorship "Vederman's dream job" and said that Fattah had lobbied President Obama and other members of his administration on Vederman's behalf. Meanwhile, he said, Vederman was writing checks to Fattah's son and daughter and providing "things of value" to Fattah as part of what the feds say was a quid-pro-quo bribery scheme.

Vederman "showered Fattah with money and things of value," Gray said.

Two other alleged conspirators, Lindenfeld and Naylor, have pleaded guilty to related charges and are scheduled to appear as government witnesses at the trial. Both were described by defense attorneys as less than credible.

The case, Lee told the jury, is based on speculation, innuendo and the testimony of "two men who have now cut deals to keep them out of federal prison." Lindenfeld is expected to take the stand sometime this week. Naylor will likely to be called later in the trial.

Lee urged the jury to stay focused on the issues. This is not, he said, a case about "Fattah's lifestyle." Nor is it a case about Philadelphia politics, he said, or "Mrs. Fattah's choice of automobile."

Welsh, Vederman's attorney, told the jury that Fattah and Vederman, whose fortune came from his family's ownership of the Charming Shoppes women clothing chain, were "best friends." He said the government was misinterpreting "friends helping friends" and turning Vederman's assistance into something nefarious.

Nicholas' lawyer Ann Flannery hit on the same theme, telling the jury the case against her client was built on "miscommunication" and "misunderstanding" by government bureaucracies.

She said her client worked tirelessly at EAA to develop programs to help students in need obtain educational opportunities.

"The only conspiracy between Karen Nicholas and Chaka Fattah was to help underprivileged young people" get a higher education, she said.

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

2 comments:

  1. Its interesting that Paul Gray said Fattah "abused his office and his oath over and over again to serve his own interest" the same could be said about federal prosecutors. Prosecutors take parts of information and piece together a scenario they "assume" happened. Usually a "jailhouse informant" someone that is threated with jail time or promised a lighter jail sentence, will testify against their intended target, thereby getting the desired results, either a false confession or incriminating their victim. People turn on one another at the urging of the prosecution. The government is teaching us how to treat one another, with contempt and ridicule. America does not want to see one another do well , they are hungry for the next indictment, or the next jail sentence.

    The culture of the justice department is to win at all costs regardless of the truth, regardless of the financial cost to taxpayers , regardless of the human toll. Their job is not to be the seekers of justice that the American people believe of them.
    I am hopeful that the legal team for the defense is able to show the public that the prosecution usually have the details distorted, a crime invented way before it has all the facts. It really does not matter, the FBI and IRS will corroborate the prosecutions lies.

    A defendant should be able to use the Rico Act against the feds, media and judge as they work together as an organization to convict defendants.
    When the feds "scheme" fails they offer the defendant a plea to escape additional jail time that would have been given by a jury that has already been poisoned by the media. If a defendant was given as much print as the prosecution we would see very different outcomes. America is coming apart at the seams and the very people we depend on to uphold justice are the biggest offenders.

    I am living for the day when the FBI, IRS and federal prosecutors will be disgraced for their part in the unraveling of justice in our country. It would be a pleasant change to see their families and coworkers know what they did to benefit their own interests by ruining countless lives for a promotion.

    It has long been said of the feds,"unlimited time and unlimited resources" maybe having the justice department reimburse the taxpayers for failed cases, such as the Police Narcotics Trials and the Traffic Court Case where the government lost, and lost badly. The media has had a field day with the Traffic Court case but they protected the FBI agent on the case that was caught lying, the media should be held accountable for their actions, it cant be the prosecution right or wrong. Fair is Fair. Our lives depend on the media getting the facts correct.

    We need an organization equal to the justice department and as equally well funded to defend those accused by the governments lawyers. Defendants should not have to hire lone practitioners or even large firms, it should be one united front against the prosecution, who has the upper hand in all aspects of a trial, the playing field needs to be level. Having former defendants weigh in at the end of a trial with their summary of the prosecution would also go far to ensure fairness.
    I was told by a man who had dealings with the feds, "they don't care, they don't care about anyone or about the truth" . What a sad , sad summation of what the justice department has become. Win at all cost. Prosecutors could never be wrong, its everyone else that sins.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The above opinion is a very cogent argument for the belief that the most dangerous criminal has the power to write and enforce the law.

    RICO was designed to strengthen a government out of control, managed by the criminals rewarded for the most vile behavior.

    When the Tech and Financial powers want to operate outside the law they hire legal power to protect and serve their interests.
    Facebook,Google,Apple,Comcast are clearly built on platforms that are unlawful, but are outrageously valued. They are clear candidates to be charged under RICO.

    BET Network is promoting Black Lives Matter as a responsible organization. When they are designed and maintained by criminal orgs.
    Too big to fail, will be tested again.

    Get ready for the correction...it's here.

    ReplyDelete

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