Congressman on Racketeering Charges: 'This Is Not Deflate-Gate'July 29, 201500:38
A longtime Philadelphia congressman was indicted Wednesday in a racketeering case stemming from the alleged misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal, charitable and campaign funds after his failed 2007 run for mayor.
Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah, 58, and four associates were charged with bribery; conspiracy to commit wire, honest services, bank and mail fraud; money laundering and other charges. The others charged include Fattah's congressional district director, Bonnie Bowser, and Palm Beach, Florida, lobbyist Herbert Vederman.
Fattah has been the subject of a long-running federal investigation.
Prosecutors said the charges covered several schemes, including the use of federal grants and charitable contributions to Fattah's educational foundation to pay back part of a $1 million loan from a wealthy campaign supporter and arranging a federal grant in lieu of a $130,000 payment to a political consultant.
"The public does not expect their elected officials to misuse campaign funds, misappropriate government funds, accept bribes or commit bank fraud," U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger said. "These type of criminal acts betray the public trust and undermine faith in government."
According the FBI, Vederman allegedly paid Fattah $18,000 for an ambassadorship.
“In another alleged scheme, beginning in 2008, Fattah communicated with individuals in the legislative and executive branches in an effort to secure for Vederman an ambassadorship or an appointment to the U.S. Trade Commission,” according to a statement from the FBI.
“In exchange, Vederman provided money and other items of value to Fattah. As part of this scheme, the indictment alleges that the defendants sought to conceal an $18,000 bribe payment from Vederman to Fattah by disguising it as a payment for a car sale that never actually took place,” the statement read.
Fattah spoke to reporters outside his office Wednesday in the Rayburn House Office Building about the federal corruption charges against him. He said he has not yet received the indictment, but maintains his previous statement that he has “never been involved in any wrong doing, any unlawful activity and any misappropriation of federal funds.”
Fattah said he will recuse himself from his leadership positions on the House Appropriations Committee until the matter is resolved and noted “I am going to keep doing my work.”
He also said the matter should not be a “distraction” and the issue is “not Deflategate” because “This is a normal issue of which there are allegations after a very long running eight year investigation.”
Last year, the congressman's son, Chaka Fattah, Jr. was indicted on fraud, theft and tax-related offenses, according to court documents.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi cited congressman Fattah’s record as a veteran member of Congress and said she was “saddened” by the indictment.
“The charges in the indictment against Congressman Chaka Fattah are deeply saddening,” Pelosi said in a statement. “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.”
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-New York, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations committee said "like all Americans, Rep. Fattah is entitled to the presumption of innocence as the legal process runs its course.”
South Carolina congressman James Clyburn, who has worked closely with Fattah over the years on a variety of issues, told NBC News he hopes "things come out well for him." Clyburn does not believe that, at this point, Fattah should resign his position in Congress.
"He also chairs the Congressional Black Caucus’ Foundation and I’m assuming he will step aside from any official role in that as well until all of this is cleared up," Clyburn told NBC News of Fattah's role as chairman of the organization's board of directors. "I would hope that he would move forthrightly to make sure that neither one of these entities — the Democratic caucus or the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation — will suffer any undue harm or attention because of this possible distraction."
The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation has not responded to requests for comment.
Fattah is married to Renee Chenault-Fattah, a newscaster with NBC News affiliate WCAU in Philadelphia.