THE VOTERS may still believe in U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, but another member of his inner circle has bailed from the net closing in around him.
Now Tom Lindenfeld, a Washington, D.C., political consultant, may help investigators land Fattah in an ongoing public-corruption probe.
One day after Fattah collected 87 percent of the vote to win his 11th term in the 2nd District, Lindenfeld, 59, pleaded guilty to wire fraud in U.S. District Court in connection with an illegal $1 million loan he funneled into Fattah's failed 2007 mayoral bid.
As part of the plea deal, Lindenfeld agreed to cooperate in the investigation linked to Fattah - who has not been charged - and to testify at trial if necessary. In August, a longtime aide to Fattah, Gregory Naylor, admitted that he had lied to investigators about the $1 million campaign loan.
Fattah, described only as "Elected Official A" in court documents, denied any wrongdoing again yesterday, and the allegations didn't seem to bother voters on Tuesday.
"In light of today's news, it is disappointing that a second individual associated with me has pleaded guilty to wrongdoing," Fattah said in a statement yesterday. "I spent today thanking the citizens of my district for their vote of confidence. Those citizens can be assured that, as I previously stated, I have never been involved in any illegal conduct nor misappropriation of taxpayer funds."
Luther Weaver III, Fattah's lawyer, declined to comment yesterday.
Lindenfeld is known as a political bulldog inside the Beltway, a former partner of David Axelrod who has worked on several mayoral campaigns in Washington along with former Gov. Ed Rendell and former Mayor John Street.
Both the Washington Post and the Inquirer compared his demeanor to that of a longshoreman.
In court yesterday, Lindenfeld blended in with all the other men in suits, however, and U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III had to ask him to speak up as they went over the details of his plea agreement. Lindenfeld left quickly after the hearing with his attorneys without commenting, but is scheduled to return to Philadelphia for sentencing on March 25.
"Tom takes full responsibility for his actions and regrets participating in illegal activity," a Lindenfeld spokeswoman said in a statement later." He did not profit from this activity. He has and is cooperating fully with the government."
The man who made the $1 million loan to Fattah, described in court documents as "Person D," is Al Lord, a former CEO of Sallie Mae and current trustee at Penn State University. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The complicated scheme devised to repay Fattah's debt to Lindenfeld would be comical if it didn't involve taxpayer money. Fattah was supposed to funnel federal earmarks to the "Blue Guardians," an environmental-advocacy group created by Lindenfeld, via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A $500,000 earmark was approved, but after NOAA started making phone calls and getting bounced around from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, the agency determined that the Blue Guardians didn't exist. That forced alleged conspirators to "pull the plug," Eric Gibson, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, said after the hearing.
A Fattah spokeswoman, when asked about Lindenfeld and the Blue Guardians in September, said: "Tom Lindenfeld has been engaged in environmental-justice work for 30 years."
- Staff writer William Bender contributed to this report.