Thursday, November 27, 2014
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Government: Punish Council aide worse than Fumo

The U.S. Attorney's Office wants a 6 1/2 year sentence for former City Council aide Chris Wright, a punishment that would exceed former state Sen. Vincent Fumo by nearly two years.

Government: Punish Council aide worse than Fumo

The U.S. Attorney's Office wants a 6 1/2  year sentence for former City Council aide Chris Wright, a punishment that would exceed former state Sen. Vincent Fumo by nearly two years.

Calling Fumo's 55-month sentence a "travesty," assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bresnick argued in a court filing Monday night that Wright, former chief of staff to Councilman Jack Kelly, deserves much more than the 27- to 33-month sentence recommended in the federal probation officer's presentencing report.

"A federal jury of Christopher Wright's peers has declared loudly and unmistakeably that he has violated the public's trust by depriving it of his fair, honest and impartial services as a public employee," Bresnick argued in the U.S. Attorney's sentencing memorandum.

Wright was convicted Feb. 24 on three of 13 counts that accused him of conspiring to sell his services as Kelly's top aide to developers Hardeep Chawla and Ravinder Chawla and Andrew Teitelman, the Chawla brothers' company attorney who doubled at Kelly's campaign treasurer. Ravinder Chawla and Teitelman were also convicted on conspiracy charges, while Hardeep Chawla was acquitted.

Wright is scheduled for sentencing Monday, Chawla and Teitelman the first week in September. U.S. Judge Eduardo Robreno has yet to rule on the defendant's motions to throw out the jury verdict based on insufficient evidence.

Throughout the trial, Wright and the Chawlas argued that a $1,000 check given by the Chawlas to Wright was a simply a gift between friends, and his use of an apartment in a building they once owned just a place to stay while Wright went through a nasty divorce. Wright was in the apartment for 14 months while the new owners tried to evict him.

Prosecutors are obviously concerned about the potential precedent set by the Fumo sentencing.

Fumo was convicted in March on 137 counts of conspiracy and fraud for defrauding the state Senate, the South Philadelphia nonprofit he controlled, and the Independence Seaport Museum. He was also found guilty of conspiring to obstruct the FBI and IRS investigation. Prosecutors accused him of cheating the various entities out of $4.3 million. U.S. Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter determined Fumo's fraud to be worth only $2.3 million. That's 100 times more than the $23,000 Wright is accused of benefiting in free rent, free parking and the $1,000 check -- none of that coming out of the government or non-profits.

Buckwalter sentenced Fumo to 55 months in prison.

Ruth Arnao, who ran Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, the South Philadelphia non-profit they were both convicted of defrauding, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison following her conviction on all 45 counts against her.

Bresnick urged Judge Robreno not to consider the Fumo sentence, even though federal sentencing guidelines advise judges to consider "the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct." Bresnick instead pointed to the 10-year sentence handed former city Treasurer Corey Kemp and the 78-months given former City Councilman Rick Mariano.

"The Fumo sentence was...a travesty," Bresnick wrote. "Besides imposing insufficient punishment for the offenses at issue, its worst legacy will arise if other judges follow that court's mistaken lead, and use the Fumo sentence as a baseline for public corruption offenses." 

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The Philadelphia Inquirer's Chris Hepp, Tricia Nadolny, Julia Terruso, and Claudia Vargas take you inside Philadelphia's City Hall.

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