Former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison, one of the longest terms of incarceration ever imposed on a member of Congress for federal corruption crimes.
The Philadelphia Democrat remained stoic as U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III announced the prison term – half as long as the two decades Fattah spent in Congress.
Addressing the court, Fattah expressed regret for how his conviction had affected his constituents, but stopped short of fully acknowledging guilt.
“The investigation and the trial has been the most disappointing event in my now 60-year life,” he said. “I’ve helped tens of millions of people, and that has nothing to do with the fact that I have been found on the wrong side of these questions by a jury.”
Bartle called Fattah’s theft of thousands of dollars from taxpayers and charitable organizations “astonishing” and “extremely serious,” especially for an elected official representing one of the poorest congressional districts in the country and one whose own $174,000-a-year salary put him among the “1 percent.”
Monday’s sentencing offered a damning postscript to Fattah’s nearly three decades in public life.
The son of activists, he rose from a West Philadelphia neighborhood plagued by gang violence to become one of the region’s longest-serving members of Congress. But his career buckled under the weight of the Justice Department’s investigation.
Still, his punishment could have been far worse.
His sentence fell below the 17 to 22 years recommended by prosecutors but remains the second-longest prison term ever received by a member of Congress, topped only by the 13 years former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson (D., La.) received in 2009 for soliciting millions of dollars in bribes.
“That’s about as good as we could have expected,” Fattah lawyer Albert S. Dandridge turned to tell a courtroom packed with supporters and family members moments after the sentence was imposed.
Fattah, who has maintained his innocence since the jury’s verdict and blamed investigators for pursuing a years-long witch hunt against his family, said he plans to appeal.
Though Bartle ordered the former congressman to begin serving his sentence Jan. 25, he has yet to rule on a defense request that would allow Fattah to remain free until the appeals court review is complete.
The sentence capped a tough year for Fattah, who lost his first primary in two decades to U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Pa.) just days before his trial began.
His wife, former NBC10 news anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah, though not charged in his case, saw her career end this year after she was linked to the sham sale in 2012 of her Porsche convertible, a transaction prosecutors said was intended to cover up a bribe to her husband. She sat in the courtroom Monday typing on an iPad during the hearing.
And his son, Chaka “Chip” Jr., was sentenced to five years in prison in February in a bank and tax fraud case tied to loans he fraudulently obtained to fund a luxury lifestyle.
But while the younger Fattah’s crimes stemmed from his extravagant taste in fancy cars, clothes, and apartments, most of the congressman’s misdeeds centered on money he owed creditors after a disastrous 2007 bid to become mayor of Philadelphia.
Addressing the court Monday, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Gibson said the ex-congressman’s trial proved his willingness to sell out his office and his constituents over and over again.
He stole from some of the same causes for which he sought credit, including the education nonprofit he raided to repay an illegal $1 million loan from the mayoral campaign.
Jurors also found that he agreed to misdirect federal grant money to a fake nonprofit in order to pay a political strategist, siphoned funds from his campaign coffer to cover his son’s college debts, and accepted more than $27,000 in bribes from wealthy fund-raiser Herbert Vederman, who hoped to land a White House appointment as an ambassador.