clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Chaka Fattah, longtime Philadelphia congressman, was just indicted for corruption

Chaka Fattah, in 2014.
Chaka Fattah, in 2014.
Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call Group / Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA) was indicted today on charges of participating in a racketeering conspiracy, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday morning.

The 29-count indictment of Fattah and four associates includes charges of bribery, conspiracy to commit mail and honest services fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering. It's rife with accusations of falsified records and misuse of federal grants and campaign funds, including, in one case, to pay the student loan debt of Fattah's son.

The indictment alleges that Fattah:

  • Borrowed $1 million from a wealthy donor for his mayoral campaign, and later paid most of it with "charitable and federal grant funds" that went through a nonprofit he controlled
  • Got $130,000 in campaign debt to a political consultant forgiven by agreeing to try to steer a $15 million federal grant to that consultant (though the grant wasn't, in the end, awarded to him)
  • Used $23,000 donated to his campaigns to repay his son's student loan debt, which he disguised by laundering it through a political consulting firm
  • Got an $18,000 bribe payment from lobbyist Herbert Vederman in exchange for trying to get him an ambassadorship or US Trade Commission job, which he disguised as a payment for a nonexistent car sale

Vederman was also indicted, as was Bonnie Bowser (Fattah's district chief of staff), and Karen Nicholas (the CEO of the nonprofit Fattah founded). The indictment alleges that Nicholas obtained $50,000 in federal grant funds for a conference to be hosted by Fattah's nonprofit — but that no such conference ever took place, and the money was instead used to pay a political consultant, her attorney, and Nicholas herself.

Fattah has served in Congress for 20 years, and his district includes West and North Philadelphia. He first won his House seat in 1994 by campaigning as a reformer, but for the past several years, federal investigators have been looking closely at his activities for possible corruption.

The details of some of the indictment's allegations were first made public last year, when a longtime Fattah aide pleaded guilty for his involvement in the scheme to repay the $1 million donor, and in the student loan scheme. Fattah wasn't named in those court filings, but they quite clearly referred to him, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Additionally, Fattah's son, Chaka Fattah Jr. — the one who benefited from the student loan payments — was indicted for fraud last year. In 2012, Jonathan Allen reported that Rep. Fattah had sought an earmark for the for-profit school where his son worked.