Chaka Fattah Seeks to Use McDonnell Case to Overturn Conviction

Sentencing delayed as ex-congressman asks for acquittal, new trial

Lawyers for ex-Rep. Chaka Fattah want to apply a pivotal Supreme Court ruling that overturned the bribery conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell to his own case, delaying a sentencing that was scheduled for Tuesday.

Fattah’s attorneys are asking for a new trial or an acquittal. The Pennsylvania Democrat was convicted in June on 22 counts of bribery and conspiracy.

Fattah’s push to overturn his conviction was met with tough questioning from a federal judge during a hearing in Philadelphia Sept. 23, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Supreme Court vacated McDonnell’s case in June, days after Fattah was convicted of federal corruption charges that detailed a scheme to pay off debt from an unsuccessful campaign for mayor of Philadelphia.

Fattah was convicted of racketeering, bribery and wire fraud relating to the mayoral campaign in 2007 as part of a probe launched by the IRS and FBI in 2013. The case largely centered around a $1 million campaign loan.

Fattah was also indicted on charges related to accepting money from a political operative in exchange for favors, including an appointment as an ambassador. Fattah's attorneys argued he was helping a constituent gain access to government officials.

[Rep. Chaka Fattah Found Guilty of Corruption]

The Supreme Court decided unanimously to narrow the scope of what constituted as an “official act” by determining that talking to other officials and setting up meetings did not fall under the definition.

Attorneys for Fattah argued McDonnell was acquitted for far more serious charges. McDonnell and his wife had been indicted for accepting $175,000 in gifts and loans from a businessman whose dietary supplement they promoted through arranged meetings and events.

Lawyers compared that to Fattah writing a letter to promote the appointment of a political consultant to federal office, according to a brief filed in September.

No action was taken on Fattah’s request.

[Supreme Court Overturns McDonnell’s Bribery Conviction]

The 11-term congressman resigned from his seat in June, two days after his conviction and two months after he lost his primary. He originally sought to stay in office until sentencing, which has not been rescheduled.

In his appeal, Fattah’s lawyers also argue the high court narrowed the definition of bribery in overturning McDonnell’s conviction and limited what constituted as an “official act,” according to their brief.

They argue McDonnell had far more potential to wield influence as a governor than Fattah did as one member among 535 federal legislators in Congress.

“The notion is fanciful that a single congressman’s act of writing a letter or arranging a phone call in support of a long shot ambassador candidate is more likely an ‘official act’ than is a Governor’s conduct in arranging meetings with his subordinates and events at his official residence to promote an alleged briber’s product and pressuring his subordinates to advance that product,” Fattah’s lawyers wrote in their brief.

Federal prosecutors are asking the appeal request be denied arguing the Supreme Court’s ruling in the McDonnell case did not apply to Fattah’s.

“[It] fails for the simple reason that the evidence at trial unquestionably showed that Fattah agreed to perform an official act — obtaining a federal earmark — in exchange for a thing of value,” prosecutors wrote.

A jury convicted Fattah and three others on all charges.

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