Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Chaka's Spin Doctor Sells Him Out

By Ralph Cipriano

Thomas Lindenfeld's story was that he did Congressman Chaka Fattah a favor, and then he got left holding the bag. To the tune of $600,000.

So when the feds came knocking, Lindenfeld, facing 20 years in jail, sold out Chaka and the other fellow conspirators in hopes of getting a more lenient sentence.

In a soft voice and a low-key demeanor, Lindenfeld was on the witness stand for less than an hour in U.S. District Court today, telling his sad tale with many one and two-word answers. Meanwhile, several defense lawyers were jumping up to complain to the judge that they couldn't hear the witness.

Lindenfeld, a political consultant who was once a trusted member of the congressman's inner circle,  was the last of seven witnesses to testify today. He followed a dreary lineup that included a former nonprofit official who suffered frequent memory lapses, a NASA bean-counter, a forensic auditor and three accountants.

It was hard to figure who was the most boring government witness as the Chaka trial ended its third day, because the competition was so fierce. The courtroom was packed with print and TV reporters, many of whom were fighting to remain conscious as the witnesses droned on. The agony was prolonged by one prosecutor who sounded like he was teaching kindergarten, and one defense lawyer who appeared to be the master of the pointless cross-examination.

But all that is expected to change tomorrow when Lindenfeld will have to run a gauntlet of defense lawyers on cross. "Expect blood in the streets," a lawyer in the courtroom was overheard telling a sleepy TV reporter.

When he took the stand, Lindenfeld said he'd been a political consultant for 35 years, starting in New Jersey and winding up in Washington D.C. with his own firm, LSG Strategies Service Corp.

He reached the top of his profession. His former partner is David Axelrod, Barack Obama's political guru.

Then the feds crashed the party.

Do you know Congressman Fattah, asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Gibson.

"I do," Lindenfeld said.

Did you work for the congressman, the prosecutor asked.

"I did," Lindenfeld said.

Lindenfeld explained that when the former Arthur Davenport, AKA Chaka Fattah, wanted to run for mayor in 2007, Lindenfeld's big question as part of Fattah's "kitchen cabinet" was whether the congressman could raise enough money.

In a memo that became a government exhibit, Lindenfeld told Fattah that he was one of the "least proficient fundraisers in Congress."

Sure enough, the Fattah for mayor campaign developed cash problems. Lindenfeld's story is that the congressman asked him to solve those problems. How? By agreeing to participate in a scheme to get around the new campaign finance laws in the mayor's race.

The scheme involved the congressman getting a wealthy donor, Alfred Lord, the former CEO of Sallie Mae, to make a $1 million "loan" to Lindenfeld's firm, "on the congressman's behalf," for "use in the mayoral campaign," according to Lindenfeld.

Lindenfeld testified Lord was a stranger before he came up with the cash.

"I had to Google him to find out who he was," the witness testified.

But the catch was that Lindenfeld was on the hook to repay the loan in monthly payments at 9.25 percent interest. For collateral, Lindenfeld told the jury, he had to put up virtually all his assets as well as his company.

When Lindenfeld got worried, he called up the congressman and told him he was counting on Fattah to come up with the cash to pay off the loan.

And what was the congressman's response, the prosecutor wanted to know.

"No problem," Lindenfeld quoted Fattah as saying.

Was he worried about being on the hook for $1 million, the prosecutor asked.

"I  had the word of the congressman," Lindenfeld replied. He thought he was good to go.

Did you ever repay any of that interest, the prosecutor asked.

"No," Lindenfeld said.

Did you wind up putting your entire company in hock, the prosecutor asked.

"Yes," Lindenfeld said.

Would you have put up everything you own as collateral if you had to pay back the loan with your own money?

"No," Lindenfeld said.

Did you know the $1 million loan you were arranging to get around the campaign finance laws was illegal at the time you did it, the prosecutor asked.

"I did," Lindenfeld said.

Fattah came in fourth in the mayoral primary, behind Michael Nutter. But Fattah didn't spend all of Lord's money. Some $400,000 was left over, which Lindenfeld promptly shipped back to Lord.

In a letter to Lord, which was a government exhibit, Lindenfeld explained that "business was not as fruitful as previously expected."

Was that part of the deception, the prosecutor asked.

It was, Lindenfeld said.

But when Lord's son hit Lindenfeld up for the rest of the money, the political consultant went into a panic and called Fattah again. And what was the congressman's response?

According to Lindenfeld, Fattah told him, "I'll take care of it."

That's when Robert Brand called out of the blue and promptly hired Lindenfeld's company to do $600,000 worth of work for Brand's company, Solutions for Progress.

Did you do $600,000 worth of work for Brand?

"No," Lindenfeld said.

Did you do any work for $600,000?

"No," Lindenfeld said.

The day before Brand wired him the money, Lindenfeld was sweating it out.

"Please do not drag this out," the political consultant emailed Brand. "I have a lot on the line."

Brand replied that the money would be wired to him the next morning.

"The earlier the better," Lindenfeld wrote back.

They had never met face-to-face.

The next day when the money came in, Lindenfeld promptly sent it to Lord's son that same day.

When Brand subsequently had a meeting with Lindenfeld, they discussed a project involving a 12-month campaign in 13 states.

Lindenfeld bluntly asked Brand if he intended to pay for that campaign. Somebody at the meeting brought up the fact that Brand's company had already paid Lindenfeld $600,000.

"That was for Congressman Fattah," Lindenfeld said he blurted out. He subsequently had a meeting in the hallway with an angry Brand.

In the hallway, Brand told Lindenfeld he had no business saying that, according to Lindenfeld.

Did Brand's colleagues know about the secret loan for Fattah, the prosecutor asked.

"The inference was they did not," Lindenfeld testified.

In 2014, Lindenfeld pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud conspiracy.

When the trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow in Courtroom 16A, Lindenfeld's story will be put to the test as he is cross-examined by up to five defense lawyers.

That should wake everybody up.

1 comment

  1. Sounds fishy, Lindenfeld took a loan with his own property as collateral for a Congressman that is the least proficient fundraisers in Congress. What idiot would do that, there was something in it for him, family would not do that for family.


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