PHILADELPHIA — The sentencing of a longtime congressman is on hold this week while his lawyers appeal his bribery conviction following a pivotal Supreme Court ruling.
Lawyers for former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, an 11-term Philadelphia Democrat, say the high court narrowed the definition of bribery in overturning former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s conviction days after Fattah’s trial in June.
The defense argues that Fattah accepted gifts from a businessman out of friendship and did not perform any political favors in return. That distinction was at the heart of the Supreme Court decision in McDonnell’s case.
U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle, though, questioned Fattah’s lawyers at a post-trial hearing last month when he noted that Fattah had hired the businessman’s girlfriend and pressed the White House to make him an ambassador.
Fattah has also petitioned to reverse other parts of his 22-count racketeering conviction, which could bring a sentence of 10 years or more. He was also convicted of using an illegal $1 million loan to finance his failed 2007 mayoral bid. He had been scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday. Bartle put his sentencing, and that of four co-defendants convicted with him, on hold indefinitely while he considers their motions for a new trial.
The co-defendants include businessman Herbert Vederman, a former deputy Philadelphia mayor who gave Fattah’s family money for his children, for their au pair’s college tuition and $18,000 for the congressman and his TV-anchor wife to close on a Poconos vacation home.
The 59-year-old Fattah, who entered Congress in 1995, lost his April primary bid for re-election and resigned from office after the June conviction.
Fattah’s son, Chaka Fattah Jr., is meanwhile serving a five-year prison sentence in an overlapping case. The son, a college dropout who had a contract with the Philadelphia School District, is appealing his conviction in a bank and tax fraud case that centered on charges he used business loans to support his lavish lifestyle and gambling debts. He is serving time at a low-security prison in Michigan.
This story has been corrected to show that the gift-giver’s girlfriend, not wife, got a job in Fattah’s office and that the former Virginia governor’s last name is McDonnell, not McDonell.