Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) and four of his associates will face prosecution for political racketeering, the Department of Justice announced this morning. The five men face 29 counts in the indictment, including bribery, money laundering, wire and banking fraud, and much more:
A member of Congress and four of his associates were indicted today for their roles in a racketeering conspiracy involving several schemes that were intended to further the political and financial interests of the defendants and others by, among other tactics, misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars of federal, charitable and campaign funds.
Congressman Chaka Fattah Sr., 58, of Philadelphia; lobbyist Herbert Vederman, 69, of Palm Beach, Florida; Fattah’s Congressional District Director Bonnie Bowser, 59, of Philadelphia; and Robert Brand, 69, of Philadelphia; and Karen Nicholas, 57, of Williamstown, New Jersey, were charged today in a 29-count indictment with participating in a racketeering conspiracy and other crimes, including bribery; conspiracy to commit mail, wire and honest services fraud; and multiple counts of mail fraud, falsification of records, bank fraud, making false statements to a financial institution and money laundering. …
“As charged in the indictment, Congressman Fattah and his associates embarked on a wide-ranging conspiracy involving bribery, concealment of unlawful campaign contributions and theft of charitable and federal funds to advance their own personal interests,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “When elected officials betray the trust and confidence placed in them by the public, the department will do everything we can to ensure that they are held accountable. Public corruption takes a particularly heavy toll on our democracy because it undermines people’s basic belief that our elected leaders are committed to serving the public interest, not to lining their own pockets.” …
Specifically, the indictment alleges that, in connection with his failed 2007 campaign to serve as mayor of Philadelphia, Fattah and certain associates borrowed $1 million from a wealthy supporter and disguised the funds as a loan to a consulting company. After he lost the election, Fattah allegedly returned $400,000 to the donor that the campaign had not used, and arranged for Educational Advancement Alliance (EAA), a non-profit entity that he founded and controlled, to repay the remaining $600,000 using charitable and federal grant funds that passed through two other companies, including one run by Brand. To conceal the contribution and repayment scheme, the defendants and others allegedly created sham contracts and made false entries in accounting records, tax returns and campaign finance disclosure statements.
The announcement also describes other schemes Fattah allegedly put together to enrich himself through his connections to power. He used political contributions to reduce his son’s student-loan debt too by laundering money through a political consultancy, according to the indictment. Fattah allegedly took a bribe to push Vederman for an ambassadorship, which seems a bit strange, since ambassadors usually just donate directly to presidents to get their attention.
The probe into Fattah and his circle of associates began last year, even as Fattah ran for re-election to Congress. His former adviser Tom Lindenfield pled guilty to corruption the week after the midterm election, based on actions to promote Fattah’s political career. Lindenfield didn’t get mentioned in this indictment, and that may mean that Lindenfield has been cooperating since his guilty plea.
So what happens now? One might expect Fattah to resign while dealing with these charges, but that’s not exactly a hard-and-fast precedent in Congress. The House could vote to expel him, but Democrats have rallied around indicted colleagues in the past (William Jefferson, for instance) until the moment of conviction. Even if he does resign, Philadelphia’s PA-02 is a D+39 district; it was last represented by a Republican in 1949. A relatively quick special election could be called to fill the seat with another Democrat, and after 20 years of Fattah, perhaps that would be a good idea for Democrats anyway.
Update: He’s resigned a committee leadership position, but so far that’s all:
Pelosi: Congressman Fattah has rightly stepped down from his position as Ranking Member on the House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) July 29, 2015