PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A veteran congressman on trial in a racketeering case ran a "white-collar crime spree" that stretched from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., a prosecutor told jurors Monday.
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, an 11-term Democrat from Philadelphia, is accused of taking an illegal $1 million campaign loan from a friend to fund a failed 2007 mayoral bid and using a federal grant to repay most of it.
Justice Department lawyer Jonathan Kravis said in his closing argument that Fattah also used nonprofit funds to enrich his family and friends.
Defense lawyers say the plots were hatched by two political consultants who have pleaded guilty in the case and testified against Fattah. They are scheduled to give their closing argument later in the day.
Fattah lost his bid for re-election in the April Democratic primary. His trial has been underway for about a month.
"These conspirators engaged in what can only be described as a white-collar crime spree, from Philadelphia all the way to Washington, D.C.," Kravis told jurors. "There were so many schemes in this case we needed numbers to keep track of them."
The $1 million loan for the mayoral campaign came from Albert Lord, the former CEO for Sallie Mae. Fattah had been the early favorite for the race, but his plan to fund the race with help from a few wealthy donors hit a snag over new campaign finance limits that Fattah unsuccessfully fought to overturn.
So he instead funneled the loan from Lord through his political consultant, investigators said. Some $200,000 was used on primary day alone to try to get out the vote. Fattah nonetheless finished fourth.
When Lord called in the loan, Fattah's consultant returned $400,000 that was never spent. He then took $600,000 in NASA grant money awarded for math and science programs to an education nonprofit he controlled and routed it through his consultant to pay the balance, Kravis told jurors.
The campaign loan was just one of several alleged schemes prosecutors outlined during the trial. They say Fattah was aided in his endeavors by current and former staffers who ran his district office or the nonprofits; by wealthy friend Herbert Vederman of Palm Beach, Florida, a former deputy mayor who allegedly gave him a bribe in hopes of securing an ambassadorship; and by the political consultants, Greg Naylor and Thomas Lindenfeld, who pleaded guilty.
"Congressman Fattah repeatedly abused his office for his own personal and political gain," Kravis said. "He took bribes. He committed fraud. He even stole money from his own campaigns. But he didn't do it alone."