A former congressman, a parade of government staffers, and even a hotel doorman cycled through the witness stand Friday as the defense case began in the federal corruption trial of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) and four codefendants.
Lawyers for the accused hoped each could put a little polish back on their clients' reputations after three weeks of tarnishing government testimony.
But prosecutors showed little patience for the pursuit.
Asked if she had an opinion of Fattah's character, Elizabeth King, Fattah's former legislative director, eagerly replied: "I absolutely do.
"He is a truthful person who does good things for the right reasons," she said. "He comes to work to do the right thing for poor kids in Philly."
That hearty endorsement earned a sigh from Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Gray. "Obviously, you're a fan of the congressman," he said.
Former U.S. Rep. Robert Borski Jr., whose congressional career overlapped Fattah's, told jurors he held the congressman in "high personal regard." Gray questioned whether his assessment might have anything to do with Borski's current job, lobbying members of Congress on behalf of Philadelphia.
Debra Anderson, Fattah's congressional spokeswoman, spent much of her brief stint on the witness stand telling jurors about the time she and a Fattah friend, wealthy fund-raiser and codefendant Herbert Vederman, a former Philadelphia deputy mayor, redecorated Fattah's office in Washington's Rayburn House Office Building.
She said they were aiming for "something more warm, less cold, something that would speak to the nature of the congressman," a statement that seemed to baffle Gray.
"You are aware that this indictment charges Congressman Fattah with racketeering? Mail fraud? Wire fraud? And other serious offenses?" he asked. "And your testimony is that Herbert Vederman redecorated Congressman Fattah's office? You came all the way from Washington to say that?"
Much of the day's testimony centered on attempts by Vederman's lawyers, Robert Welsh and Catherine Recker, to beat back the government's portrayal of their client as an ambitious climber who befriended Fattah and bribed him for years to fulfill his goal of becoming an ambassador in the Obama administration.
Since the trial began last month, they have sought to show that what prosecutors have called bribes - cash payments to Fattah's children, college tuition payments for his South African au pair - were nothing more sinister than gifts exchanged between friends.
Testifying on Friday, Jodi Isenberg, former senior adviser to Gov. Ed Rendell, and Maisha Leek, Fattah's onetime chief of staff, attested to Vederman's generosity and the closeness of his relationship with Fattah.
Steve Hornstein, the bell captain at the Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel, where Vederman owns a condo, described Fattah as a frequent visitor, often spotted sipping coffee with his friend in the lobby or dining on steak at the hotel's Prime Rib restaurant.
"Mr. Vederman will come out front if he's expecting Mr. Fattah for dinner and say, 'Hey, Steve, make sure you get his car,' " the doorman said. Of Vederman, he added: "He's a very fine gentleman, and goes out of his way to be kind to everyone."
Vederman's lawyers took a different approach in their questioning of Abdul Aziz Said, a retired international affairs professor at American University.
Said told jurors he was the one who first suggested that the former deputy mayor consider seeking an ambassadorship, after meeting Vederman while his son was attending the college.
Vederman's experience traveling abroad on city business and his interest in global affairs would make him an ideal candidate for the foreign service, Said testified.
Prosecutors have said that in exchange for the bribes he received, Fattah pushed senators, White House staffers, and even the president to consider Vederman for a posting abroad.
But Recker, in questioning Said, offered another reason for the congressman's eager endorsement: Vederman was exceptionally qualified.
"I believed he would be an outstanding, remarkable representative of the United States," Said said.
In addition to the alleged bribery scheme, Fattah is accused of misappropriating charitable donations, campaign contributions, and federal grant funds to pay off political and personal debts.
His other codefendants include Karen Nicholas, head of an education nonprofit Fattah founded; Bonnie Bowser, Fattah's former chief of staff in his West Philadelphia district office; and Robert Brand, a family friend who is married to a former Fattah staffer.
Earlier Friday, prosecutors rested their case after 13 days of testimony that defense lawyers described as insufficient to convict their clients. But U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III rejected their calls to dismiss the charges.
Addressing the indictment's primary count - the racketeering conspiracy charge - Ronald Levine, the lawyer for Bowser, criticized the portrayal of his client's efforts to promote the congressman's career as contributions to a criminal enterprise.
"This [case] is a house of cards," he said. "We have a bunch of schemes alleged, but a woeful lack of evidence of knowledge and intent."
Testimony is expected to resume Tuesday.