U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah charged in bribery case

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah charged in bribery case
Metro file photo

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattahaccepted bribes,used federal funds to repay campaign debts related to his 2007bid for mayor and used campaign contributions to repay his son’s student loan debts,federal prosecutors said.

The 29-count indictment announced Wednesday against Fattah and four others laid out five schemes under which prosecutors say Fattah and his political allies used sham contracts,charitable contributionsand in one instance, a non-existent entityto enrich himself and his friends.

Fattah issued a statement on Wednesday saying the indictment was the result of an eight-year effort to connect him to wrongdoing.

“This will not be a distraction from my service to the people that elected me, and I am confident that I will be cleared of these charges,” he said.

The others charged with Fattah are former Philadelphia deputy mayor and lobbyist Herbert Vederman, 69, of Palm Beach, Florida; Philadelphia businessman Robert Brand, who was married to a former Fattah staffer; Karen Nicholas, 57 a former Fattah staffer and CEO of a non-profit that Fattah founded and controlled; and Bonnie Bowser, 59, who was the Chief of Staff of Fattah’s Philadelphia office.

In one scheme, prosecutors alleged that Fattaharranged for Educational Advancement Alliance, the non-profit helmed by Nicholas, to funnel federal money to a wealthy donor who had loaned Fattah’s mayoral campaign $1 million. Fattah owed the donor — who was not identified in court documents — $600,000 but was having trouble raising the money.

Prosecutors said $500,000 of the $600,000 came from a Sallie Mae grant meant to cover an educational conference that Fattah sponsored. The balance came from a NASA grant meant to provide math and science education to low-income youth.

Prosecutors also alleged that Fattah sought a $15 million federal grant for a political consultant to whom he owed $150,000 related to the mayoral bid. That consultant, identified at Thomas Lindenfeld ,was asked to create a nonprofit called “Blue Guardians” that would perform coastal conservation work. Lindenfeld was not charged as part of the indictment.

Rumors circulated in recent months, including since the guilty plea of Fattah’s former aide Gregory Naylor, that the federal investigation would focus on a $1 million loan issued to fund Fattah’s 2007 mayoral bid.

The indictment,released online, confirmed those rumors.

“To the extent that the indictment reflects some of the allegations that they were investigating, he intends to fight those charges,” Weaver said.

The indictment was announced one year to the day after an indictment was filed against Fattah’s son, Chaka Fattah Jr., on charges of defrauding the School District of Philadelphia. That case is pending. Trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 15.

In Wednesday’s indictment, prosecutors said Naylor and Lindenfeld sent phony invoices described as election expenses to make payments on Fattah Jr.’s $100,000 student loan debt.

Vederman was accused of giving Fattah Sr. $18,000 in exchange for Fattah’s work to secure an ambassadorship for the former deputy mayor, going to far as to hand-deliver a letter in 2010 to President Barack Obama touting Vederaman’s credentials. Fattah used the money to secure a loan for a Poconos vacation house, and disguised the payment as the sale of a Porsche.

Prosecutors also said Vederman sponsored Fattah’s live-in nanny for immigration purposes from South Africa. He also the nanny’s college bills.

Fattah later hired Vederman’s girlfriend as congressional staffer.

Prosecutors did not take Fattah into custody. U.S. Attorney Zane Meminger said a hearing will be set for his initial appearance.

Fattah’s attorney, Luther Weaver III, said he received a call notifying him of the indictment at 10:55 a.m. — just five minutes before federal prosecutors held a press conference to announce the indictment.

“He intends to plead not guilty and fight the charges and remain in office,” Weaver said, noting that he had not yet received a copy of the indictment.

D.C. journalist Siobhan Reardon tweeted that Fattah, who is in the capital today, said he would recuse himself from the Appropriations Committee and the Commerce, Justice, Science sub-committee — and denied wrongdoing, unlawful activity or misappropriation of federal funds.