Fattah Jr. adds FBI, Dept. of Justice to lawsuit

Chaka Fattah Jr is suing the IRS agents, seeking nearly $1 million in damages. ( DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer )

WASHINGTON – Chaka Fattah Jr., the son of Philadelphia U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), has amended his lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service to include the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice and now seeks punitive damages of $9.1 million, in addition to the nearly $1 million in damages he sought when he first filed his suit last week.

Fattah Jr. filed the amended suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, turning an 18-page filing into a sprawling 51-page compilation of allegations, harms and personal observations, sometimes in first person.

His suit details how Google now suggests damaging search terms in relation to his name after raids on his home and office appeared in news reports; his admiration for the way Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, once fought federal authorities; negative publicity that has hounded him, including a disparaging Tweet from the popular Philadelphia-based Web site Philebrity, and questions whether federal agents put him in danger by making his home address widely known when they visited his home at the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton in 2012, with journalists waiting outside.

The crux of his allegations remains the same. Fattah Jr. claims that the IRS and other agencies investigating him were responsible for improperly alerting the Inquirer of early morning raids on his home and office and having photographers in place as agents arrived. The resulting news coverage, Fattah Jr. alleges, damaged his reputation and cost him a lucrative marketing and consulting contract, crushing his income. The new defendants, the FBI and Department of Justice, were both part of the raids on his home and office.

“It was important to attempt to more fully document that the initial disclosure … essentially had a viral effect to me,” Fattah Jr. said in an interview Wednesday. “The amended complaint contains more specificity and detailed claims.”

The IRS has declined to comment and a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Eastern Pennsylvania said Tuesday “it would be improper” to comment on pending litigation.

Fattah Jr. is believed to be facing a criminal inquiry related to tax issues and bank loans.

Fattah Jr. is not an attorney but wrote the suit himself. His amended suit often slips into first person, veers between legal allegation and personal observations and at times deals in hypotheticals.

While Fattah says he believes the IRS was the “primary source” of the leaks, “it is also possible that employees or officers of the U.S. Department of Justice and/or Federal Bureau of Investigation gave the same, additional, or supplemental information” to outlets including philly.com and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

He also charges that the leaks could have posed a threat to his safety. Fattah Jr. points out that he testified against a violent criminal after his then girlfriend was car-jacked in 2011, and that he had moved to the Ritz-Carlton in large part because of the security the building provided.

“If Plaintiff’s recollection of his research at the time is correct,” the suit says, the assailant had a history of criminal charges. He notes that many witnesses of crimes are later assaulted after testifying.

“Plaintiff was not injured in any way … but that does not mean it could not have happened. The government employees and officers at the Defendant agencies knew or should have known that it was completely inappropriate to disclose where someone lives under these circumstances,” the suit alleges.

Fattah Jr.’s suit also explains how Google's “autocomplete” function now suggests adding "FBI" to searches that begin with “Chaka Fattah Jr.” 

The filing is at its most fervent when discussing the case of Cuban, the NBA team owner and star of ABC show “Shark Tank,” and his legal battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“I am hopeful that this lawsuit brings some real change, which would affect many more people than just myself,” Fattah Jr. writes in the suit. He points to Cuban’s comments that he would not be bullied by the government.

“I think Mr. Cuban’s point of view is extremely prescient in my life,” Fattah Jr. writes in the legal filing. “It interests me what happened to Mr. Cuban as a business owner, a fan of the ABC business show Shark Tank and as someone who once had a chance to meet and talk to him at a charitable event in Philadelphia approximately 10 years ago.” 

The amended suit seeks damages for loss of reputation, emotional distress, loss of income and other causes, and punitive damages.

Congressman Fattah has declined to comment on his son's suit. The Democratic lawmaker has also faced an investigation, though it is unclear if it is related to his son's case.

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