Last week, longtime Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah Sr. and four of his associates were indicted on racketeering charges related to a host of public corruption schemes, most of which were associated with his failed 2007 mayoral campaign, as well as his charity and congressional campaigns.

“As charged in the [85-page] 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,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said in a statement released by the Department of Justice.

According to the document, the racketeering scheme included blatantly illegal uses of charity contributions and campaign donations, including paying off a personal campaign loan with charitable donations and federal grants, using campaign money to pay down his son’s student loans, and hiding a bribe as a payment for a car that was never actually sold. Many people here in Philly are upset by these allegations, which if they turn out to be true would be viewed as a huge violation of public trust. Already, the media frenzy surrounding these charges has grown to a feverish pitch.

What Exactly Are Racketeering Charges?

Despite the huge amount of media attention surrounding the racketeering charges against Fattah, many people do not fully understand exactly what racketeering charges mean. Often, we only hear about these types of crimes associated with the mob or other criminal organizations, yet racketeering charges have a much wider scope. Any scheme that allows illegal activity to occur over large periods of time can lead to RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) charges.

Because Fattah allegedly engaged in acts of bribery and illegal use of campaign funds over a period of at least 10 years, he must answer to not just the accusations of the crimes themselves, but also the racketeering charges associating with encouraging illegal activities over an extended period of time.

While bribery and money laundering charges are nothing to scoff at alone, racketeering charges are much more serious. As such, Fattah is most likely going to face a long battle with the Justice Department over these accusations. So far, Fattah has maintained his innocence, claiming that the charges are at best, misguided, and at worst, an attempt to undermine the good he has done for the city.

While awaiting the resolution of this indictment, citizens of Philadelphia will simply have to watch as justice is played out. As criminal lawyers with experience fighting racketeering charges on behalf of our clients, we know how damaging such accusations can be if false, which we hope is not happening here. In any case, it is clear that Fattah is facing a long uphill battle in clearing his name. It will likely be a while before we see any end in sight.

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