Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah faced a rare tongue lashing from U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III over the failure to pay his defense counsel in his corruption and racketeering trial. Judge Bartle snapped at Rep. Fattah to get “your priorities” straight.
The Department of Justice brought 29 federal racketeering charges against Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) and some of his closest associates. The counts detailed how Fattah allegedly diverted campaign and charitable funds to cover the cost of a failed mayoral run. He is also accused of using such funds to pay off his son’s student loans. The case could not be more serious for Fattah given the guilty plea last year of a top aide to helping Fattah divert the money towards his son’s student loan debt. Fattah’s son is awaiting his own trial.
In one allegation, a supporter allegedly gave $1 million in a loan to the campaign and Fattah arranged for a nonprofit to repay it. In addition to steering millions allegedly to other donors, Fattah is accused of taking an $18,000 bribe from an associate in exchange for attempting to secure an appointment as an ambassadorship. He then allegedly concealed the bribe as a fake car sale.
In other words, Fattah really really really needs a good lawyer. This is a very complex case involving cooperating witnesses and an array of criminal charges. Yet, Judge Bartle told Fattah that he is not taking his trial seriously enough and has been too focused on raising money for his re-election bid:
“I think you need to take this matter seriously and think hard and fast about your priorities.”
Fattah, 59, insisted that he is “a person who has lived a life without blemish, I don’t think there’s any suggestion I’m not going to pay my bills.” He insisted that he simply needed to put his current focus on raising money for the April 26 Democratic primary and worry about paying his lawyers later: “I’m not suggesting that I’m not taking this matter seriously. But one thing has to come after another, and you have to make rational decisions. We don’t think much of the allegations, but this is an important matter.”
In the meantime, his lawyers want out after not being paid for five months.