The jury that will decide U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah's fate began its deliberations Wednesday after a monthlong trial in which prosecutors accused him and four others of stealing taxpayer and charitable funds to cover his personal and political debts.
U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III released the panel of four men and eight women to begin discussions just before 3:30, after instructing the group for nearly four hours on the legal principles that should guide its decision.
Jurors deliberated for about an hour and a half before breaking for the day. They are expected to return Thursday.
Fattah, who has said little publicly since the trial began, sat quietly in court. Mark Lee, one of his lawyers, declined to comment Wednesday.
The case before the jury charges Fattah and members of his inner circle with racketeering conspiracy and 28 other counts, including money laundering and fraud.
Should he be convicted, Fattah, 59, could face a significant prison term. Under House ethics rules, he could hold onto his office but would be barred from voting on legislation or participating in the work of committees on which he serves. He would likely face pressure to resign his seat before sentencing.
An acquittal would be a significant blow to the Justice Department after a rare high-profile public corruption prosecution of a sitting congressman.
Fattah lost his bid for reelection to a 12th term to State Rep. Dwight Evans in April's Democratic primary, just weeks before the trial began.
Fattah and four codefendants are accused of schemes to misappropriate charitable donations, campaign contributions, and federal grant funds to pay off Fattah's creditors and advance his political career.
Most of the alleged plots center on money owed to creditors after Fattah's failed 2007 bid to become mayor of Philadelphia, including an alleged plot to steal funds from an education nonprofit to repay an illegal $1 million campaign loan.
Prosecutors say Fattah also tried to pay one of his political strategists from the mayoral campaign by misdirecting federal grant money to a fake nonprofit he instructed the operative to create.
Even while Fattah for Mayor was struggling to pay off its other campaign debts after the congressman's loss, authorities say, he siphoned money to pay off his son's student loans.
Authorities also have accused the congressman in a bribery scheme involving Herbert Vederman, a political fund-raiser and Rendell-era deputy mayor who prosecutors say paid Fattah to buy his support in seeking appointment by the Obama White House to an ambassadorship.
Fattah has repeatedly denied the charges and has accused the Justice Department of waging a witch hunt against him and his family that has dragged on for years. His son, Chaka "Chip" Jr., is serving a five-year federal sentence on bank and tax fraud charges.
Lawyers for the congressman have challenged the allegations in court by casting doubt on the government's two primary cooperating witnesses, Washington political strategist Thomas Lindenfeld and Gregory Naylor, a Fattah confidant and longtime political aide.
Both pleaded guilty to their roles in Fattah's alleged misdeeds and testified against him at trial.
Also charged in the case are Karen Nicholas, executive director of a Fattah-founded education nonprofit, and Robert Brand, a family friend and businessman. Both are accused of allowing the organizations they led to be used by Fattah to launder stolen money used to pay back the $1 million campaign loan.
Prosecutors say Bonnie Bowser, Fattah's former chief of staff in his West Philadelphia office, falsified campaign finance forms and other official documents to cover up her boss' crimes.