Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Feds won’t retry U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah on bribery counts, but he likely won’t get out of prison any sooner

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Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that they will not retry former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattahon bribery charges in the wake of an appeals court ruling last year that overturned some of the convictions in his case.

But the government’s decision doesn’t mean the former Democratic congressman will be getting out of prison any sooner.

Fattah, 62, is serving multiple decade-long sentences for additional crimes that include stealing federal grant funds, charitable donations, and campaign cash to pay off his personal and political debts.

“The government believes that, under these circumstances, where defendant Fattah is already serving multiple concurrent 10-year prison terms … it is in the interests of justice to dismiss [the bribery counts] of the indictment,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric L. Gibson wrote in a motion filed Wednesday in federal court in Philadelphia.

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Fattah faces resentencing in July as a result of the 2018 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, but it is likely to be a formality.

His sentence was one of the longest imposed on a member of Congress for corruption-related federal crimes. And in crafting it in 2016, U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III gave the congressman 17 decade-long sentences — each tied to a specific charge on which he had been convicted and all set to run concurrently.

Although the appellate court threw out the four bribery convictions last year, the remaining 13 — and their punishments — still stand.

At the same time, the Third Circuit judges reinstated convictions on two counts that Bartle himself had previously tossed — both tied to the congressman’s efforts to hide an alleged $18,000 bribe by forging documents and disguising it as proceeds from the fake sale of a Porsche convertible belonging to his wife, former NBC10 anchor Renee Chenault Fattah.

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In their ruling, the appellate judges described the evidence that Fattah had accepted bribes as “overwhelming,” but ruled the instructions Bartle gave the jury on how to decide the case did not comply with new standards the U.S. Supreme Court set just days after the verdict in the congressman’s case.

Prosecutors had alleged that Fattah had accepted a string of gifts from wealthy benefactor Herbert Vederman, including cash payments to the congressman’s children, college tuition for his South African au pair, and $18,000 to help with the purchase of a Poconos vacation home.

In exchange, Fattah gave Vederman’s girlfriend a job in his district office and lobbied other government officials — including then-President Barack Obama and Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) — in a failed attempt to land Vederman a job as a foreign ambassador.

The appeals court also threw out Vederman’s bribery convictions last year. The government has signaled its intent to retry him at proceedings scheduled to begin in September.

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