The Justice Department on Wednesday indicted longtime Democrat Rep. Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania on racketeering charges, following a years-long probe into the funding of his unsuccessful bid for Philadelphia mayor in 2007.
Fattah said Wednesday that due to the charges, he will temporarily step down from from his position as top Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Department of Justice and other agencies. Fattah, 58, was elected to Congress in 1994.
In a scathing statement, Justice Department officials accused Fattah of illegally steering to his campaign war chest $1 million in funds borrowed from a wealthy donor, and disguising the money as a loan to a consulting company.
Officials said Fattah then tried to pay back the money using sham contracts and falsifying accounting entries.
"As charged in the indictment, Congressman Fattah and his associates embarked on a wide-ranging conspiracy involving bribery, concealment of unlawful campaign contributions and theft of charitable and federal funds to advance their own personal interests," Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said in a statement. "When elected officials betray the trust and confidence placed in them by the public, the department will do everything we can to ensure that they are held accountable. Public corruption takes a particularly heavy toll on our democracy because it undermines people's basic belief that our elected leaders are committed to serving the public interest, not to lining their own pockets."
In addition to Fattah, Justice Department officials charged lobbyist Herbert Vederman of Palm Beach, Florida; Fattah's Congressional District Director Bonnie Bowser of Philadelphia; Robert Brand of Philadelphia; and Karen Nicholas of Williamstown, New Jersey.
The FBI and IRS were the lead investigators in the case. They accuse Fattah of working to secure for Vederman either an ambassadorship or an appointment to the U.S. Trade Commission in exchange for an $18,000 bribe and other items.
"As part of this scheme, the indictment alleges that the defendants sought to conceal an $18,000 bribe payment from Vederman to Fattah by disguising it as a payment for a car sale that never actually took place," the Justice Department said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the charges against Fattah are "deeply saddening," and she called him "a tireless and effective advocate for America's hard-working families across more than 20 years of distinguished service in the House."