Chaka Fattah resigned his U.S. House seat effective immediately on Thurs., June 23, a day after Republican leaders balked at his plan to remain in Congress for three months following his conviction on federal corruption charges.
In a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan, the Philadelphia Democrat wrote that he had hoped to resign Oct. 3 – a day before his sentencing – to ensure an orderly transition.
“However, out of respect for the entire House leadership, and so as not to cause a distraction from the House’s work for the people, I have changed my effective date,” the letter said.
Fattah, 59, stepped down two days after a federal jury convicted him on 22 counts that included charges of racketeering conspiracy, bribery, money laundering, and fraud.
His decision ends a two-decade congressional career that saw him arrive in Washington from West Philadelphia as the winner of an upset election, and rise to become a member of the House’s old guard with a plum assignment on the powerful Appropriations Committee.
Under House rules, Fattah could have remained in office through January, though he would have been barred from voting on legislation or participating in committee proceedings. Fattah lost a reelection bid for a 12th term in office in April’s Democratic primary to State Rep. Dwight Evans.
His resignation means the immediate loss of his $174,000 annual salary. His pension, too, appeared to be in jeopardy.
The crimes of which Fattah was convicted fall under the list of corruption offenses that under federal law would cost him his congressional retirement benefits. But a formal determination on that issue would be up to the federal Office of Personnel Management, which said Thursday it had not received a pension request from Fattah.
In his resignation letter Thursday, Fattah touted his accomplishments in steering federal funds to education, housing, and city infrastructure, saying he was “honored to have had the privilege to serve.”
But the Justice Department investigation that led to his undoing struck at the very work he has spent years ing out as his legacy and took down six members of his tight-knit inner circle.
Federal prosecutors painted Fattah during his trial as an arrogant lawbreaker who robbed an education nonprofit he founded to pay off a political debt owed to former Sallie Mae chief executive Al Lord.
The jury found that Fattah, through a political operative, took out an illegal $1 million campaign loan from Lord to bolster his disastrous 2007 bid to become mayor of Philadelphia. After losing to Michael Nutter, Fattah turned to a former staffer to help him pay back the debt with stolen money that had been intended to expand access for low-income students to higher education.
Fattah was also convicted of accepting bribes and misusing other charitable donations, campaign contributions, and federal grant funds under his control to line his own pockets and those of his family members.
His son, Chaka “Chip” Jr., is serving a five-year prison term in Michigan on bank and tax fraud charges from an overlapping case.
The congressman’s wife, former NBC10 news anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah, left her job after prosecutors linked her to one of her husband’s bribery schemes. She has not been charged with a crime and has denied any wrongdoing.
In a statement Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) lauded Fattah’s 20 years in Congress but said House Democrats thought they had “a responsibility to uphold the highest standards of ethics and integrity.”
She added that Fattah’s “prompt resignation was the right thing to do for his constituents in light of the verdict against him.”