Former congressman seeks to delay prison term amid appeal

Chaka Fattah (AP)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A longtime Pennsylvania congressman set to start a 10-year prison term this month has petitioned a U.S. appeals court to let him remain free while he appeals his racketeering conviction.

Former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, a Philadelphia Democrat, said he expects to win a new trial over alleged errors during his five-defendant trial this year, including the dismissal of a holdout juror.

Fattah also argues that his case could be overturned in keeping with the U.S. Supreme Court decision that narrowed the legal definition of bribery in overturning the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. The court said there was no evidence McDonnell did anything more than meet with a businessman who had given him gifts.

However, the trial judge in Fattah’s case noted that Fattah had sought an ambassadorship for the friend who gave him money and put his girlfriend on the payroll in a no-work job. U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle, in denying Fattah’s request to remain free pending appeal, also noted that 13 other counts don’t involve bribery.

Fattah, 60, was convicted in June of using more than $600,000 in government grants and nonprofit funds on personal and campaign expenses. Four friends or former aides were convicted of related charges.

Bartle dismissed the holdout juror after his clerk, on the first day of deliberations, heard the man say that he would cause a deadlock “no matter what.” Other jurors then told the judge he was refusing to deliberate.

“While district courts possess a great deal of discretion in managing the conduct of a trial and in addressing legitimate juror misconduct, the record here establishes a substantial question regarding the court’s action,” Fattah’s lawyers wrote in a Dec. 30 motion.

A juror’s refusal to deliberate, bias toward one side, or intent to ignore the law are all grounds for dismissal, courts have found. The newly constituted panel in Fattah’s case convicted him days later on all counts, and all four co-defendants on at least some counts.

Fattah’s 11 terms in Congress include a stint on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

He ran into financial problems when he ran for mayor of Philadelphia in 2007 just as the city passed strict new campaign finance limits. As he struggled amid a strong primary field, he took an illegal $1 million loan from a friend. He then used federal grants and funds from nonprofit groups run by his former aides to pay some of it back, the jury found.

Fattah resigned after the June conviction. His son, Chaka Fattah Jr., is serving a five-year term in an overlapping bank fraud case at a federal prison in Milan, Michigan.

Federal prosecutors oppose his motion to remain free.

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