PHILADELPHIA — Former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who was sentenced to a decade in prison on federal racketeering charges, appealed his conviction in a court filing that cited a recent Supreme Court decision used by other politicians to clear their names by way of a legal precedent narrowing the definition of corruption.
Lawyers for Fattah argued in their filing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on Friday that prosecutors used too broad a definition of bribery in their client’s case and that jurors may have convicted the Philadelphia Democrat for conduct that is not unlawful.
Fattah’s appeal leans heavily on a 2016 Supreme Court decision that ruled that only formal actions, such as hearings or a lawsuit, could be considered an official government action in a bribery case. By that logic, his lawyers wrote, the letters Fattah sent to a senator and the president boosting a friend’s request for an ambassadorship, as well as a reported promise he made to steer a federal grant toward a nonprofit, did not run afoul of federal laws, but were instead the workaday functions of a politician.
Fattah’s attorneys, who declined to comment beyond the filing, also wrote that his conviction should be thrown out for what they called the wrongful removal of a juror who was the “lone dissenter,” though a federal judge has said he dismissed the person because he screamed at his counterparts and pledged to cause a hung jury.
The 60-year-old Fattah spent two decades in Congress before his 2016 conviction, where a jury found that he laundered federal grants and nonprofit cash to repay an illegal $1 million campaign loan and help friends and family. Records show he is currently being held in a medium-security prison in western Pennsylvania, near the New York border.
The Supreme Court decision cited by Fatah’s lawyers helped in July to overturn the corruption conviction of former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. In the Silver ruling, the appeals court said that the trial judge would need to instruct jurors on what constitutes an official government action based on the high court’s recent decision.