The Justice Department indicted Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania and four of his associates for their involvement in a racketeering conspiracy "to further their political and financial interests," U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said Wednesday at a press conference for the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The charges within the 29-count indictment include accepting illegal contributions, bribery, creating sham contracts, and misappropriating campaign funds to pay off Fattah's son's college loans.
The five schemes described in Wednesday's indictment are fairly diverse in nature. The first one that Memeger detailed at the press conference dates back to Fattah's failed 2007 bid to become mayor of Philadelphia.
Fattah gave a brief statement about the charges after they were released, saying in response to a question from NBC's Luke Russert, "This is not Deflategate, all right? This is a normal issue of which there are allegations after a very long-running, eight-year investigation." He said that he's "never been involved in any wrongdoing, any unlawful activity, and any misappropriation of federal funds."
Fattah said that he has "spent my time helping people," and that he's going to try to make sure the allegations do not distract from his work.
"The charges in the indictment against Congressman Chaka Fattah are deeply saddening," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Wednesday. "Congressman Fattah has been a tireless and effective advocate for America's hard-working families across more than 20 years of distinguished service in the House."
According to the indictment, Fattah and several alleged coconspirators received an illegal $1 million contribution from a rich donor. The congressman allegedly returned $400,000, and "funneled" the remaining $600,000 debt repayment through his nonprofit Educational Advancement Alliance. He had the nonprofit repay the funds "using charitable and federal grant funds that passed through two other companies," the indictment reads. Defendants created sham contracts and "false entries" in financial statements to cover up the scheme.
"That's not proper use of government funds," Memeger said.
In another scheme, the congressman allegedly "misappropriated funds from his mayoral and congressional campaigns to pay his son's student-loan debt," Memeger said at the press conference.
Between 2007 and 2011, a political consultant allegedly used those funds to make 34 loan payments totaling $23,000 on behalf of Fattah's son.
And in yet another instance, Fattah allegedly tried to help lobbyist Herbert Vederman, who's based in Florida, get an ambassadorship or appointment to the U.S. Trade Commission. The congressman allegedly lobbied on Vederman's behalf "with individuals in the legislative and executive branches," the indictment reads. In exchange, Vederman allegedly paid him back for his efforts through money and "other items of value to Fattah." One payment, for $18,000, was "disguised" as a car-sale payment. (No actual sale ever took place, the indictment reads.)
This isn't the first time the Fattah name has been linked to corruption allegations. Last year, Fattah's son Chaka Fattah Jr. was indicted on charges that he defrauded banks and the Philadelphia School District, and submitted false income-tax returns. His trial begins in September. Also last year, a former aide to the congressman pleaded guilty to charges that he misused campaign and federal funds. And back in 2012, Fattah Jr.'s home was raided by the FBI. That year, Fattah Sr. also tried to help a school where his son worked obtain a federal grant; the congressman said his son had nothing to do with his attempt to assist the school.
Fattah is the top Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Science, and Justice — the panel that actually determines funding levels for the FBI and the prosecutors who have indicted Fattah.
When his son was under investigation, Fattah was asked if he'd recuse himself from his Justice Department appropriating duties. He did not.
But, Pelosi announced Wednesday morning, he has now given up that post, following caucus rules that require lawmakers who are indicted for felonies carrying a possible prison sentence of at least two years to surrender chairmanships or ranking-member positions.
"Congressman Fattah has rightly stepped down from his position as Ranking Member on the House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee pending the resolution of this matter," Pelosi said in her statement.
Memeger said the FBI received a tip in March 2013 regarding Fattah, and began an inquiry.
The case has been assigned to a judge, Memeger said, and Fattah will receive the date of his initial appearance in the future.
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