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16 Dec 2016

The Page Is Turned

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December 16, 2016 Category: Local Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., speaks outside of the federal courthouse in Philadelphia. Fattah has tried to influence potential jurors in his racketeering case by publicly boasting about his accomplishments in Congress, federal prosecutors said Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Bartle III didn’t throw the entire book at former Congressman Chaka Fattah. But he threw enough pages at him to leave a mark.

By Denise Clay

As he stood behind the James A. Byrne Federal Courthouse on Market Street Monday, David Fattah was philosophical.

He had just finished watching Judge Henry Bartle III sentence his son, former Congressman Chaka Fattah, to 10 years in prison following his conviction on 22 counts including racketeering, conspiracy and fraud.

Federal prosecutors wanted Judge Bartle to give Fattah 17 to 21 years in prison on the charges. But while he didn’t get the entire book thrown at him, the pages that hit him bruised.

“It’s tough, but it could have been worse,” the elder Fattah said.

Fattah’s 10- year sentence is second only to the 13 years that former Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson got on bribery charges. In addition to the jail sentence, he’s facing three years supervised release when he gets out of jail and will also have to pay $614,500 in restitution to student loan purveyor Sallie Mae, NASA, and the Fattah for Congress campaign, the three entities that Fattah was convicted of using to finance a lifestyle that included a vacation home in the Poconos.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Fattah would be required to serve 85 percent, or 8 ½ years of that time before parole is considered.

The sentence was handed down after a nearly two-hour hearing where many of Fattah’s friends and family did a version of “This Is Your Life” on behalf of the former Congressman, who resigned after his conviction in June. The former Congressman’s wife, former NBC-10 anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah, State Sen. Vincent Hughes, and City Councilwoman Cindy Bass were present in the courtroom.

Among those asking for leniency was former School Reform Commission chair Sandra Dungee Glenn. Dungee Glenn was Fattah’s Chief of Staff and said that he shouldn’t be judged on his worst moment.

“He believed in making things different,” she said. “He tried to provide real help for real people. For him to be judged by just what he’s been convicted of would be a disservice.

Businessman and entrepreneur Joseph Quinones told the court how Fattah’s support helped him get where he is today.

Taking Fattah away from the community would keep him from helping others the same way he helped him, Quinones said.

“The Congressman’s help had a multiplier effect,” he said. “He invests in people. The reason I’m here today is to ask you not to lean on a moment in time; a hiccup. Look at the totality of his life.”

That got a rise out of Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Gibson, who had a few questions for Quinones.

“Did you read the indictment?!” Gibson asked. “Were you here for the trial?!”

Quinones stuck to his assessment.

“This is a snapshot,” he said. “What percentage of his life is this? I want the full measure of [Fattah’s] character to be taken into account.”

David Memeger speaks to the press following the Fattah sentencing. (Photo courtesy: Denise Clay)

David Memeger speaks to the press following the Fattah sentencing. (Photo courtesy: Denise Clay)

Before his sentence was pronounced, Fattah  spoke on his own behalf. Calling the investigation and the trial and conviction resulting from it “the most disappointing event in my now 60-year life”, he touted his public service and the number of people he was able to help.

He also apologized to those impacted by some of his choices.

“I’d like to apologize to those who were more broadly impacted by this moment,” he said. “My co-defendants have lived good lives and have done good deeds. I’d like to advocate for leniency for them….”

But while a lot of people called for the ultimate in leniency, Judge Bartle wasn’t in the mood to give Fattah credit for stuff he was supposed to do.

“It was your job as a congressman to do good work,” he said. “You abused the trust [his constituents] placed in you time and time again. Your flagrant behavior undermines the confidence of the citizenry in all public institutions. It produces the kind of cynicism that saps the strength of our democracy.”

“This court must signal to the public that your crimes are unacceptable,” Bartle continued. “Life is full of choices, and those choices have consequences.”

While Fattah didn’t get the kind of time  Federal prosecutors wanted him to get, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said he was satisfied with Judge Bartle’s decision.

“We are pleased with today’s outcome while also recognizing the tragedy of this defendant’s fall from grace,” he said. “We hope that the lengthy prison sentence imposed today deters those public officials who might be tempted to engage in corruption.”

There are plans to appeal both the conviction and the sentencing, and a hearing to continue Fattah’s bail pending appeal should be held soon.

Fattah reports to federal prison on January 25, 2017.

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