Courts & Crime

Indicted? Facing criminal charges? So what!

Congressman Michael Grimm talks to reporters after voting in the borough of Staten Island in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014.
Congressman Michael Grimm talks to reporters after voting in the borough of Staten Island in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. AP

Voters in Pennsylvania’s 2nd and New York’s 11th congressional districts don’t seem to mind that Congressmen Chaka Fattah and Michael Grimm might be spending a good deal of their time fighting for a different sort of cause: keeping themselves out of jail.

On Tuesday, they elected West Philadelphia powerhouse Fattah to an 11th term in the U.S. House, not narrowly, but with an overwhelming 88 percent of the vote even though federal prosecutors are zeroing in on the Democratic congressman. Indeed, just hours after Fattah took a victory lap, a Philadelphia political consultant pleaded guilty Wednesday to agreeing to route an illegal, $1 million contribution to the 2007 campaign of an unidentified politician who is without doubt Chaka Fattah.

In New York, voters reelected Republican Grimm to a third term with 55 percent of the vote although he already faces a 20-count federal tax fraud indictment related to a restaurant he ran in 2010 before winning his House seat.

The New York Daily News reported that Grimm compared himself to Rocky, in the movie series starring Sylvester Stallone, as he speaks to his son in the fifth sequel.

“You know it’s not how hard you can hit; it’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward,” Grimm parroted, asserting that Democrats “gave it everything they had” and he still won.

Fattah’s case is tangled, but the second guilty plea in recent weeks suggests that prosecutors are piecing together a case with promises of leniency to those who fess up and pledge cooperation. In August, former Fattah aide Gregory Naylor admitted to conspiring with his unidentified boss to pay down portions of the politician’s college debt by illegally using federal and local campaign funds, the Justice Department said.

On Wednesday, political consultant Thomas Lindenfeld, 59, of Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty in federal court in Philadelphia to funneling an illegal $1 million donation through his consulting firm, Strategic Services Corp., to the campaign of “Elected Official A,” the Justice Department said. That would be Fattah.

When the donor sought to collect on the loan, however, Lindenfeld and his co-conspirators, “at the direction of” the unidentified politician, set up a complicated series of transactions using federal grant money and money from the federal student loan program’s charitable arm to repay the loan, prosecutors said. The payments were falsely labeled as payments for services -- services that never were rendered, and the funds were routed through several entities, including Lindenfeld’s consulting firm, they said.

Lindenfeld admitted that the politician (Fattah) agreed to compensate him for his campaign work, including his concealment of the illegal campaign donation, by steering federal funding to a supposed environmental group, the Blue Guardians, the Justice Department said. It said that Lindenfeld acknowledged that the politician suggested steering $15 million in federal funding to the group, and that $500,000 was approved as an earmark in 2009 through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The problem was, prosecutors said, Lindenfeld didn’t file papers creating the nonprofit entity until early 2010.

When news reporters and an official of the Atmospheric Administration inquired about the grant, Lindenfeld said, he declined the funding on grounds it could be better spent on British Petroleum’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

It is common for the Justice Department to delay actions such as Wednesday’s plea hearing until after an election so as not to affect the balloting, but Fattah’s legal problems were known long before this week’s balloting.

Last April, Fattah’s son, Chaka Fattah, Jr., was charged with fraud and filing false tax returns. He later sued the Internal Revenue Service for $1 million in damages, citing the turmoil in his life as a result of the agency’s excessive enforcement actions.

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