For weeks, defense lawyers have portrayed U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and wealthy political fund-raiser Herbert Vederman as the best of friends - a "political odd couple" who forged a personal bond despite backgrounds that could not be more different.
On Wednesday, prosecutors in the two men's federal corruption trial sought to show that the friendship came with privileges.
Witnesses ranging from Vederman's girlfriend to the man who ran President Obama's 2012 reelection campaign testified that Fattah had on several occasions extended his influence to benefit Vederman, his loved ones, and his ambitions.
In exchange, prosecutors say, Vederman showered the congressman with gifts, including cash payments to his children and college tuition for his au pair.
But although the government has described this as a blatant bribery scheme, defense lawyers have accused prosecutors of cynically misrepresenting a long-standing friendship.
"There was nothing wrong - nothing inappropriate - with what Congressman Fattah did," Fattah lawyer Samuel Silver said.
That assertion came as Silver cross-examined Jim Messina, a former White House deputy chief of staff, who on Wednesday became the latest in a string of federal officials to testify that Fattah pushed him to consider Vederman for an ambassadorship.
Messina, who would become Obama's campaign manager in 2012, told jurors that soon after the president's 2009 inauguration, the White House was inundated with similar requests from other members of Congress backing other potential appointees.
Thanks to Fattah's ties to then-chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Messina said, he agreed to participate in a conference call with Vederman, Fattah, and former Gov. Ed Rendell. He quickly concluded that Vederman did not stand a chance.
"We had so many people competing," he said. "It was just brutal competition."
Vederman, whose family earned its fortune through the Charming Shoppes clothing chain, had been a deputy mayor under Rendell - a position that often took him abroad on city business.
More recently, he has split time between Philadelphia and Florida and has put his political connections to use as a "governmental affairs specialist" for the Center City law firm Stradley Ronan. However, because it does not require him to register as a lobbyist, Vederman's lawyers - and Fattah - reject the label as an appropriate description of his work.
It is clear that his upbringing differed significantly from Fattah's. The 59-year-old Democrat grew up in the House of Umoja, the West Philadelphia shelter his mother ran for homeless boys and former gang members.
And yet, testifying Wednesday, Vederman's girlfriend, Alexandra Zionts, described the businessman and the congressman as "great friends" who called each other three to four times a week just to talk about "the games, kids, and guy stuff."
Zionts, who has been dating Vederman since 2011, worked in Fattah's West Philadelphia district office as a "special assistant archival officer" for two months in 2012 - a short-term job that prosecutors have flagged as another perk that the congressman extended to his friend.
She said she landed the position with help from Vederman after she was forced from a previous post as a result of a bizarre incident at a federal courthouse in West Palm Beach, Fla.
As she told it to jurors, she had pulled a fire alarm in the building after being trapped inside after hours. Her boss at the time - a federal judge - was not amused, she said.
To keep her pension benefits, Zionts needed to find another federal job within days. After turning to Vederman for help, she said, she found herself interviewing with Fattah on Christmas Day.
"If worse came to worst, and I needed a safety net, [Fattah] said he would have a job for me," she said.
Still, some Fattah staffers testifying Wednesday said they were surprised at Zionts' hasty hiring at a time when the office was experiencing a budget crunch. Others had difficulty describing what she did.
"I didn't know what she was doing for the congressman," Fattah's district office manager, Dolores Ridley, testified Wednesday. "We wondered, but we didn't know what she was doing."
Under questioning from defense lawyers, Zionts maintained she took her job gathering material for Fattah's archive at Temple University seriously and earned every penny of her $40,000-a-year salary.
Although she was commuting from her Florida home at the time, she was often one of the first to show up at the office on days she worked and one of the last to leave, she said.
She bristled when Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis challenged her on statements she made to federal investigators earlier this year that she really only had about three hours of work to do each day.
"There were nine of you surrounding me pointing fingers," she said, describing the interview. "I tried to answer the best that I could."
But it was another question from Kravis - whether Vederman ever told her he had bought a Porsche - that led prosecutors to their next bribery allegation.
They have accused Fattah of accepting an $18,000 bribe from Vederman in 2012 - a gift purportedly disguised behind what investigators call a sham sale of a 1989 Porsche convertible owned by Fattah's wife, former NBC10 news anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah.
Former staff members for Mayor Kenney, who was a city councilman at the time, and for Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, who was a state senator, testified Wednesday that they notarized documents surrounding the sale. Both admitted, however, that neither actually saw Chenault-Fattah or Vederman sign them.
Later government witnesses alleged that Chenault-Fattah kept the car for years after the sale and continued to insure it in her name and drive it.
The congressman's lawyers dispute any suggestion that the car sale was anything but aboveboard. Once it became apparent that the Porsche was part of the government's investigation, they have said, they urged Fattah to keep the car.
Zionts told jurors Wednesday that she became aware of the government's probes into Fattah and his family in the same year as the Porsche sale.
But tensions flared when Kravis asked why she had forwarded a news article to her boyfriend about FBI raids in 2012 on the home and office of Fattah's son.
Zionts said she sent the message because she was concerned, prompting a testy retort from Kravis.
"You weren't happy to read this article," he said, "because your boyfriend had been bribing the congressman for the past three years."
Whatever her reply, it was drowned out by the booing that jab elicited from Vederman's supporters in the courtroom.
Testimony in the case is expected to resume Thursday.