UPDATE, 6:50 pm: Lisa Mathewson, attorney for Chris Wright, said the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the release of Wright, Chawla and Teitelman late this afternoon.
Chris Wright, the former chief of staff to City Councilman Jack Kelly, is expected to be soon released on bail from federal prison along with two of his former boss' top political supporters. Wright was convicted in February of using his official post to help Ravinder Chawla [one of Kelly's top campaign donors] and Andrew Teitelman [Chawla's attorney and Kelly's campaign treasurer] on real estate, zoning and tax matters. In exchange, the jury found, Wright got a rent-free apartment near Rittenhouse Square and free legal services.
The U.S. Attorney's Office on Thursday told the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that it does not object to Wright, Chawla and Teitelman being released on bail while they pursue their appeal, which is based on ruling last month by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down part of the federal "honest services fraud" law. The three were convicted on conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, honest services fraud and mail fraud.
The honest services fraud law had two prongs: Bribery and failure to report a conflict of interest. The Supreme Court ruled the conflict of interest section was too vague. The jury in the Wright/Chawla/Teitelman trial were instructed to consider both prongs. Defense attorneys claim there is no way to know if the jury used the part of the law that has been struck down while prosecutors argue the jury would have reached the same verdict, even with the law drawn up then as it is now.
Wright, sentenced to four years, is in a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa. Chawla, who got two and a half years, and Teitelman, who got two years, are both in the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia because they are fighting an unrelated civil case in federal court here. Chawla's brother, Hardeep, was charged in the case but acquitted.
William DeStefano, Teitelman's attorney, expects the three men to be released from prison on bail by early next week. "I think, at a minimum, they're going to get a new trial based on this appeal," DeStefano said. "They may do even better than that. They may be acquitted through his appeal."
Robert Zauzmer, chief of appeals for the U.S. Attorney's Office, does not agree since the three were convicted on mail fraud charges that are not covered by the honest services fraud law. Zauzmer says he looks forward to making his case to the Third Circuit.