Ravinder Chawla just finished testifying in his own defense in the City Hall corruption trial of Councilman Jack Kelly's former chief of staff, Chris Wright. Chawla denied bribing Wright, along with his brother, Hardeep, and their attorney, Andy Teitelman.
Prosecutors say Chawla set Wright up in a rent-free apartment near Rittenhouse Square, a value they put at more than $15,000. Chawla set up a deal to purchase the property but then flipped it to another buyer, taking a fee as a middleman. He claimed on the stand to have no involvement in Wright moving in before the new buyer stepped in.
"A free apartment?" Chawla testified. "I would have never given anyone a free apartment."
The Chawla brothers are Kelly's most generous campaign contributors. Teitelman was Kelly's campaign treasurer.
Check back here today for trial updates.
UPDATE, 12:15 pm: Architect and urban planner Jim Rappaport is testifying. Rappaport worked for Ravinder Chawla real estate developments, including the proposed massive Philadelphia River City across the Schuylkill River from 30th Street Station. Rappaport has said he thought Wright was a "real estate guy" politically involved with Kelly. He has repeatedly said he had no idea Wright was a city employee until an FBI agent told him.
Prosecutors say Wright tried to sell Chawla properties through a side job as a real estate agent and stood to share in part of a $6 million commission if a River City sale occurred.
UPDATE, 2:15 pm: Wright just took the stand in his own defense. His attorney, Lisa Mathewson, started her questioning with this exchange:
Mathewson: Did you sell your office? Wright: No.
Mathewson: Did you cheat the people of Philadelphia? Wright: No.
UPDATE, 3:15 pm: Wright is testifying about a difficult time in his life in 2005, as his marriage was falling apart, which he said led to him drinking too much. Wright said his wife was angry that he spent after-hours attending events for Kelly.
“The issue was I wasn’t home enough," Wright said. "I was spending too much time out. I would say I was working. She would say I was playing.”
Wright said his drinking was "out of control" after he moved out of the house he shared with his wife and into his brother's apartment. Teitelman, Kelly and Al Taubenberger eventually sat him down and told him he had to get help. That started a trip to rehab in Bucks County.
Wright said Hardeep Chawla knew he had no car and money troubles when he got out of rehab. Chawla gave him a check for $1,000 in December 2005, which Wright later declared on his state ethics financial disclosure form. Prosecutors say that was one of a series of bribes Wright received. Wright said he gave Chawla a bottle of wine the next day that he had received from another friend, adding he felt a need to reciprocate on the gift.