Politics

Former Rep. Chaka Fattah Appeals Prison Sentence

Lawyers lean on Supreme Court precedent to narrow corruption definition

Ex-Rep. Chaka Fattah is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence in Pennsylvania. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Rep. Chaka Fattah, who was convicted of racketeering in 2016, is looking to other politicians charged with corruption for inspiration as he appeals his 10-year prison sentence.

Specifically, the Philadelphia Democrat is hoping a recent Supreme Court decision used by politicians to successfully appeal corruption sentences will also work in his favor, the Philadephia Tribune reported.

Fattah’s lawyers pointed to a 2016 Supreme Court decision that overturned the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell as precedent for corruption appeals. That decision narrowed the definition of an “official act” by a politician. While formal actions such as hearings or a lawsuit can be considered official government actions, actions like setting up meetings, calling other public officials, or hosting events are not considered as such.

In their filing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on Friday, Fattah’s lawyers said his letters to a senator and the president pushing for his friend to get an ambassadorship and promises he made to a nonprofit were not in violation of federal law.

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver used the McDonnell case to help overturn his own corruption conviction in July. The appeals court in Silver’s case ruled that the trial judge needed to explain to jurors the definition of an official government action.

Fattah has tried using the McDonnell precedent in the past. During his sentencing in December 2016, his attorneys asked that his conviction be overturned considering the Supreme Court case. The judge mostly disagreed with the argument but did throw out some charges.

The former Pennsylvania politician spent two decades in Congress before the IRS and FBI started investigating him. He was charged with racketeering, bribery and wire fraud.

Fattah’s conviction centered around a $1 million campaign loan to his failed 2007 Philadelphia mayoral bid. A jury found that he had used federal grants and nonprofit cash to pay back the loan.

Currently, the ex-congressman is being held in a medium-security prison in western Pennsylvania, near the New York state line.

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