Thursday, May 19, 2016

Cool Hand Lindenfeld

By Ralph Cipriano

He never raised his voice, and he never lost his cool.

Today in federal court, Thomas Lindenfeld, the government's star witness in the corruption case against Congressman Chaka Fattah, was cross-examined by three veteran defense lawyers, who did their best to rile him.

They yelled, they baited the witness, they tossed insults at him.

Through it all, Lindenfeld never took offense. The guy who worked presidential campaigns on behalf of the DNC, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, however, typically refused to answer a yes or no question with a simple yes or no answer. Instead, the government's star witness stayed relentlessly  on message, using every question from a defense attorney as another opportunity to restate his talking points.

By the end of the day, he was barely ruffled, and hadn't backed off any part of his story. And that had to be bad news for Chaka Fattah.

Before the cross-examination got started, the prosecution took Lindenfeld through one more scam in the Fattah case known as the "Blue Guardians."

Lindenfeld told the jury how after Chaka Fattah's failed mayoral campaign of 2007, the political consultant was left with an unpaid $95,000 bill for his firm's campaign work.

Lindenfeld explained how he went to see Fattah in 2008 at his congressional office to try and collect on the debt. According to Lindenfeld, the congressman was blunt.

"He told me it really wasn't going to be possible" to repay the debt, Lindenfeld testified. Fattah had lost and his campaign committee was broke. But according to Lindenfeld, Fattah suggested "another way he could be helpful."

Fattah explained that his wife, Renee Chenault, had just come back from a Caribbean vacation. And that prompted Fattah to come up with a new scheme to steal taxpayers' money. According to Lindenfeld, Fattah proposed that the political consultant create a nonprofit organization called the "Blue Guardians," so Fattah could fund that nonprofit by fraudulently procuring a federal grant for as much as $15 million.

The Blue Guardians were supposed to be a group that educated poor people in coastal communities  along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, as well as the Caribbean, on environmental safety, such as how they shouldn't use jet skis or dump trash in the ocean.

As part of the scheme, Fattah's mayoral campaign committee began reducing Lindenfeld's campaign debt of $95,000 by $20,000 each year on their campaign finance reports. The Fattah team explained the debt reductions by stating on the campaign records that Lindenfeld was voluntarily forgiving the money Fattah owed him.

When it came time to fill out the grant application for the Blue Guardians, Lindenfeld said, the congressman "dictated it the way he thought it should be."

Were the Blue Guardians actually going into any coastal communities and educating poor people, the prosecutor asked.

"No," Lindenfeld said.

The scheme was foiled when a reporter called Lindenfeld to ask about the work of the Blue Guardians. That's when Lindenfeld and his colleagues at his firm decided they didn't want to be part of the scheme.

The call from the reporter was "the straw that broke the camel's back," Lindenfeld testified.

The prosecutor also got Lindenfeld to admit that when FBI agents and prosecutors first interviewed Lindenfeld, he did not come clean about his participation in the Blue Guardian scheme.

"I didn't want to tell" the feds about the "quid pro quo" between him and the congressman, Lindenfeld told the jury. He explained what he meant, that the grant was the congressman's way of repaying the $95,000 campaign debt he owed to Lindenfeld.

When the Blue Guardians scheme went south, that prompted Lindenfeld to try again to collect the $95,000 that the congressman owed him for the work Lindenfeld's firm had done during Fattah's failed 2007 mayoral campaign. In a letter to campaign officials, Lindenfeld stated that he had repeatedly gone to Fattah to try and collect on the debt, but "so far that's been an unsatisfactory experience."

In his letter, Lindefeld stated that he ha thought he had done "everything I was asked to do, and then some" on behalf of the Fattah mayoral campaign.

The prosecutor asked what that was in reference to.

Lindenfeld stated that he was referring to his participation in a scheme orchestrated by Congressman Fattah to fund his mayoral campaign. The scheme called for Lindenfeld's firm to take out a phony $1 million "loan" from Albert Lord, the former CEO of Sallie Mae. The $1 million was then used to pay for the expenses of the Fattah mayoral campaign.

The first defense lawyer to cross examine Lindenfeld was Samuel W. Silver, on behalf of Congressman Fattah.

Silver asked Lindenfeld about his participation in the various schemes in the case, and whether he had lied about it to his colleagues [yes], his family [yes] and the feds [yes].

"Did I leave anyone out that you weren't truthful to," Silver asked.

Lindenfeld just sat there and said nothing.

"Would you say that winning is pretty important in your business," Silver asked.

"I could say the same about yours," Lindenfeld replied.

Silver wanted to know why Lindenfeld, supposedly such a smart guy, had been dumb enough to pledge his firm as collateral to Lord for the $1 million loan.

Again, Lindenfeld didn't answer the question.

"I'll come to you next time," the witness told the lawyer.

Silver pointed out that it was Lindenfeld who signed the loan repayment agreement, and that Fattah's name wasn't mentioned anywhere. Silver also pointed out that in the $1 million loan scheme, there was no incriminating email with Fattah's name on it.

"That's correct," Lindenfeld said. He admitted that the Blue Guardian scheme was also not spelled out in incriminating emails. That's not how Fattah did business, Lindenfeld explained.

"I had a conversation with him," Lindenfeld said about the congressman and the hatching of the Blue Guardians scheme.

Silver was back on the $1 million loan, once again asking again why Lindenfeld was dumb enough to pledge his company as collateral.

"You went to Princeton, right?" Silver asked. "You're a smart guy, right?"

Lindenfeld just stared at Silver, and said nothing.

Silver returned to all the alleged schemes in the case, and how Congressman Fattah's name wasn't on any emails or documents.

"You got anything in writing?" Silver asked.

"No, I don't," Lindenfeld admitted.

Next up was Barry Gross, representing Robert Brand, a Fattah associate who was the founder of a company called Solutions for Progress. When Lindefeld was scrambling to repay the $1 million loan from Lord, it was Brand's company that ultimately came up with $600,000 by "hiring" Lindenfeld's firm to basically do nothing, according to Lindenfeld.

Gross tried to turn the tables on Lindenfeld by telling the witness it wasn't the congressman who masterminded the conspiracy involving the $1 million loan, it was Lindenfeld.

Lindenfeld, Gross said, told Brand he had to pay him $600,000 "and the price was non-negotiable."

"No, it's not," Lindenfeld said.

Gross told Lindenfeld he was the one who was "freaking out" over the $1 million debt, and that's why he made demands on Brand.

"No," Lindenfeld calmly stated. "I informed the congressman and he said he'd take care of it."

In an attempt to show that the $600,000 payment wasn't a sham transaction, Gross pointed out some emails where Brand was trying to line up a meeting with Lindefeld, indicating that Brand actually wanted Lindenfeld to do some work for him in exchange for his money.

"Did I read that correctly," Gross asked after he read one of Brand's emails to Lindenfeld requesting a meeting.

"You did very well," Lindenfeld said with a smile.

When Gross asked about that $600,000 payment that Lindenfeld had claimed was basically a sham, Lindenfeld replied that it was a "fig leaf" to cover a quid pro quo. It was the congressman's way of repaying the loan from Lord by using Brand's company to cover $600,000 of the $1 million loan, Lindefeld said, once again restating one of his big talking points.

The final defense lawyer to cross-examine Lindenfeld was Ronald H. Levine on behalf of Bonnie Bowser, Fattah's chief of staff, former campaign treasurer and current co-defendant.

Levine asked if back in 2007, when Lindenfeld was hired to work on the Fattah mayoral campaign, if he had a good reputation as a political consultant.

"I'd like to say I still do," the witness said.

That gave Levine a chance to rip Lindenfeld for his 2014 guilty plea on one count of wire fraud.

"Will you be putting your fraud conviction on your resume?" Levine sarcastically asked.

Lindenfeld didn't answer. Instead, he just started laughing quietly.

"Do you think this is funny?" Levine asked.

Lindenfeld finally responded that he didn't think Levine was asking a serious question.

"Is there something about being a polticial operative that prevents you from answering a question," Levine asked.

Objection, the prosecutor shouted.

So Levine rephrased the question. If you're a political operative, the lawyer asked, "Does it require you to lie?"

Once again, Lindenfeld said nothing.

Levine went over the many people Lindenfeld had lied to about the various scams in the case, including his colleagues, his wife, his friends, the feds, his CPA, and some bank officials.

Once again, the witness kept the lawyer waiting for an answer.

"I have lied to avoid telling the truth," Lindenfeld finally said.


  1. Sounds like Cool Hand Luke belongs in the same category as the feds, if you twist the story enough and you sound convincing enough the public will buy it, because as we all know , according to the feds, all politicians are crooks. There never seems to be any different story line for the feds, get someone who committed a crime , someone of questionable character to incriminate the defendant, thereby saving themselves jail time. I would imagine if Lindenfeld does not do a spectacular job implicating Fattah he will be finding himself with some penalty down the road. The man sounds like he has had his skills sharpened by other sharks in his profession and lying is just is part of the territory.
    When do we get to see some other tactic on the part of the government, what about a witness saying I got caught, I am promised a lighter sentence for giving the feds their big fish target. I would say that anyone being given immunity by the feds are being used to implicate a defendant, if not they would be in a position to defend their actions not just throw blame on others.
    How could anyone believe this man, how could anyone believe the feds.

  2. U make a very clear point how this lindenfeld is tryimg to save his ass. All the paper trail leads to the witness not the defendent its all hear say . Nothing so far with Fatahs name. Sounds like this Gentlemen wanted his 95.000 k and would do anything to get it. And this guys there star witness geez u kidding me.


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