Fattah Denied Bid to Stay Out of Jail Due to McDonnell Ruling

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By Kenneth P. Doyle

A federal judge has denied a bid by former Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa) to stay out of jail pending an appeal of his conviction on corruption charges ( U.S. v. Fattah, E.D. Pa., No. 15-cr-346, sentencing 12/12/16).

Judge Harvey Bartle, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, rejected Dec. 20 Fattah’s argument that his conviction was likely to be overturned due to a Supreme Court ruling in a separate case involving former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell (R). The McDonnell ruling came down in June, a week after Fattah and three co-defendants were convicted by a jury in federal court in Philadelphia.

One of Fattah’s co-defendants in the corruption case, lobbyist Herbert Vederman, was allowed to delay serving his two-year jail sentence pending an appeal. The judge said in a Dec. 21 ruling that it was possible Vederman’s conviction could be overturned based on the Supreme Court’s June ruling in the McDonnell case.

McDonnell’s Conviction Overturned

In the McDonnell ruling, the Supreme Court justices voted unanimously to narrow the definition of “official acts” that could be traded for corrupt payments in a bribery case. The result of the decision was to overturn McDonnell’s 2014 conviction, which had resulted in a two-year prison sentence. The former governor was allowed to stay out of jail as his case made its way to the Supreme Court.

Vederman was convicted of bribery for making payments to Fattah in return for the congressman’s help in getting Vederman an appointment to a federal post and for the hiring of Vederman’s girlfriend in Fattah’s congressional office.

Fattah was convicted in connection with these transactions but also was found guilty on numerous other charges. In a Dec. 20 ruling, Judge Bartle said the former lawmaker should not be kept out of jail pending appeal because many of the crimes for which he was convicted did not involve bribery, and so the guilty verdicts on these counts were unlikely to be overturned due to the McDonnell case.

Thirteen Counts Unrelated to Bribery

Noting that he had sentenced Fattah to concurrent 10-year prison terms on 18 counts, except for a bribery count where the sentence was five years, the judge said: “At the very least, thirteen counts have nothing whatsoever to do with the bribery-related offenses.”

These other charges included conspiracy to commit racketeering, mail and wire fraud and falsification of records.

“Fattah has not argued that there is a substantial question as to the jury’s verdict on any of these thirteen Counts,” Bartle’s 10-page ruling said. “Instead, he simply asserts that he was unfairly prejudiced with regard to those counts as a result of the spillover effect on other counts by the incorrect charge on `official act.’ ”

The judge concluded that the “spillover argument does not present a fairly debatable question.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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