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Judge: Fattah Jr. can represent self, but better if he didn't

The congressman's son faces a March 9 criminal trial on charges of bank fraud and filing false income-tax returns.

Chaka Fattah Jr.
Chaka Fattah Jr.Read moreDN

DESPITE A FEDERAL judge's warning yesterday, the son of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah confidently maintained that he wanted to represent himself at his upcoming criminal trial on charges of bank fraud and filing false tax returns.

"My life's on the line here," Chaka Fattah Jr., 32, told reporters outside the federal courthouse after U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III granted Fattah's motion to represent himself at his March 9 trial.

Earlier, standing before the judge, Fattah said he wanted to represent himself "because I believe I have a strategy to address the government's charges."

Two lawyers from the federal defender's office - Nina Spizer, assistant chief of the trial unit, and assistant federal defender James McHugh - had been appointed to represent Fattah.

With Fattah 's agreement, they will stay on as "standby counsel" to help him at trial if he wants their assistance.

Fattah said he doesn't want them to represent him because he has "respectfully" disagreed with them on "certain strategic decisions."

"I want to address the court in my own voice," he said.

He noted that the federal defenders may not be willing to file a motion on a certain issue that he wants addressed.

Fattah is not a lawyer. He graduated from Central High School in 2000. He said he almost completed courses for a bachelor's degree in business administration from Drexel University, but has not graduated.

Bartle reviewed the 23 counts in Fattah 's indictment and the total maximum penalties he could face if he were convicted on all counts: 418 years behind bars and more than $12 million in fines.

After the judge asked Fattah about his knowledge of federal criminal law and trial procedures and Fattah said he has done research on his own, Bartle told him he thought it would be better if a lawyer represented him.

"I think it is unwise for you to represent yourself," Bartle said, but noted that the decision was ultimately Fattah 's.

Fattah is charged with defrauding several banks, the IRS and the School District of Philadelphia of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He is also accused of filing false income-tax returns.

He has denied the charges and contends they are politically motivated because his father, a 10-term Democratic congressman who represents parts of Philly and Montgomery County, has also been under federal investigation.

On Wednesday, Fattah filed a 305-page motion to quash the criminal indictment, alleging false grand-jury testimony by his former roommate, an FBI agent and others, and "repeated and intentional government misconduct."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Gray told the judge he will respond to it by Christmas.

Outside court, Fattah said he plans to file more motions.

"Now, we are about to get into a fight about the law," he said.

Fattah is also representing himself in a federal civil case in which he is suing the U.S. government and the IRS, saying he suffered damage to his reputation and business losses from a 2012 raid by federal agents at his then-apartment at the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton in Center City.

He is now living with his mother, the congressman's ex-wife, in Overbrook. He has no job.

"This [preparing for the trial] is my full-time job," he said.