Feds recommend 17-22 years in prison for Fattah

In a memo filed with the court late Monday, government lawyers said former U.S. Rep. Fattah repeatedly abused his power as an elected official, attempted to corrupt the electoral process and fleeced taxpayers and constituents throughout his career.

Chaka Fattah could spend the next two decades in prison if federal prosecutors get their way at the former congressman's sentencing hearing next week.

In a memo filed with the court late Monday, government lawyers described the Philadelphia Democrat as "self-serving" and utterly unremorseful and urged U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III to sentence him within a range of 17 to 22 years in prison.

"Fattah understood the power and trust given to elected officials and that corruption benefits the few at the expense of the many," Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Gibson wrote. "He chose to violate the trust of his constituents and the taxpayers to line his pockets and advance his personal and professional goals at their expense."

That punishment, if imposed, would far exceed those received by other Philadelphia-area politicians who ran afoul of federal corruption cases. State Sen. Vincent Fumo received five years after his 2009 conviction on 137 counts including conspiracy and fraud.

But prosecutors noted that their recommended sentence for Fattah fell well within the federal sentencing guidelines for his crimes. What's more, they said, it tracks with other recent sentences for corrupt politicians, including former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, convicted of similar crimes.

Still, Fattah, 60, is likely to push back hard against such a lengthy prison term.

His lawyers did not respond to requests for comment. They are expected to file their own sentencing recommendation with the judge Wednesday.

But in the months since a jury found him guilty of crimes including racketeering conspiracy, bribery and money laundering, Fattah has maintained his innocence, while blaming the Justice Department for the tactics used to investigate him.

A website, anonymously published by authors identifying themselves as former Fattah staffers, appeared this week with postings scrutinizing thousands of pages of trial transcripts to argue their ex-boss failed to receive a fair trial.

For his part, Fattah has taken to social media to highlight his accomplishments over his two-decade Congressional career and the work of nonprofits and education programs he helped to create. He lost a primary election to U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Pa.) earlier this year and resigned two days after his conviction.

In their filing Monday, prosecutors took a dim view of his recent resume touting and noted that jurors found that Fattah stole from some of those very same causes to pay off his personal and political debts.

"[He] has tried to shift the blame to everyone but himself," Gibson wrote. "None of Fattah's public pronouncements display anything more than Fattah's contempt for the rule of law and a lack of respect for his constituents."

During the four-week trial this summer, Gibson and co-counsels Paul Gray and Jonathan Kravis painted Fattah as an arrogant lawbreaker who repeatedly turned to the money of others - taxpayers, charities and wealthy fund-raisers - to cover his personal and political debts.

Chief among his crimes was his theft of funds from an education nonprofit to repay an illegal $1 million campaign loan from his failed 2007 bid to become mayor of Philadelphia.

Jurors also found that he had 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 a wealthy fund-raiser hoping to land a White House appointment as an ambassador.

"His myriad crimes have only further undermined public confidence in the integrity of public officials and the Congress in particular," Gibson wrote. "This court should impose a sentence that reflects the seriousness of Fattah's willingness to sell his office, participate in criminal attempts to influence the electoral process and undermine the public's confidence in its elected representatives."

In separate filings Monday, prosecutors also urged shorter prison terms for a group of four Fattah allies, including two former staffers, who were also convicted at trial and are scheduled for sentencing next week.

They include Herbert Vederman, the former Philadelphia deputy mayor who was found guilty of bribing Fattah with gifts including cash payments to the congressman's children, college tuition for his South African au pair, and $18,000 to help with the purchase of a vacation home in the Poconos.

Vederman's lawyers have said those gifts were nothing more than signs of their client's long friendship with the congressman and argued his conviction runs afoul of recent Supreme Court rulings that limit the legal definition of political bribery.

Prosecutors in their filing Monday balked.

"Vederman shows that he still does not understand a point that the jury appears to have had no problem grasping," Gibson wrote. "Whether Vederman and Fattah were friends or not, Vederman committed a crime when he gave Fattah things of value in exchange for official acts. Friendship does not mitigate bribery."

jroebuck@phillynews.com

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