WASHINGTON - Chaka Fattah Jr., son of Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), is suing the Internal Revenue Service, seeking nearly $1 million in damages for what he says were violations of IRS rules that harmed his reputation and crippled his earning power during an investigation into allegedly unpaid taxes.
"This is about me standing up for myself. This is about me trying to protect my rights," Fattah Jr., a Philadelphia business consultant, said Thursday in a telephone interview. "The IRS, like any other federal agency, has rules, regulations, and laws that they have to follow. The IRS's action a little over two years ago caused significant damage to my business, my income, and my reputation."
Fattah Jr., who is not a lawyer, drafted and filed the lawsuit himself in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He seeks $928,001 in damages for lost income, emotional distress, injury to his reputation, and other claims.
The suit, filed Wednesday, adds an unusual twist to long-running investigations into Fattah Jr. and his father, though it's not clear whether the two inquiries are related.
At the heart of Fattah Jr.'s claims are Feb. 29, 2012, raids on his office and his apartment in the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton. Inquirer photographers were on hand to take pictures of FBI and U.S. Treasury Department agents arriving and leaving, bringing to public attention to criminal and tax probes related to Fattah Jr.'s income taxes and bank loans.
"The only way the media company would have sent a photographer to these locations early in the morning on the above date is with advance notice, which only could have been given by the defendants," the suit says.
It also says the IRS should have contacted the lawyers Fattah Jr. had on file as his attorneys. They were already representing him in other tax matters.
The lawsuit claims the IRS also violated a section of the U.S. code by arriving and interviewing Fattah Jr. before 8 a.m. The suit says the code dictates that the IRS should try to speak to taxpayers about unpaid taxes at a "convenient time," typically between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.
"The power-of-attorney was valid and on file with the IRS at the time of the incident," Fattah Jr. said in the interview.
"Had they followed normal procedures regarding subpoenas and the taxpayer interview on that day, then nobody, including the media, would have known about it, and I would have been, for the last two-plus years, able to continue business as normal," he said Thursday. "Based on previous years and the contract I had at the time, I would have received significant income and been in a better financial condition."
He said that since the raid, his income plummeted, he had to leave his home at the Ritz-Carlton, and he faced additional lawsuits and liens over other debts and unpaid taxes.
Fattah Jr., who once drove a Range Rover Sport and cultivated a reputation as a high-end mover in city affairs, had faced lawsuits over unpaid bills and loans even before the raid.
But he said that those issues had been settled well before the IRS and FBI went to his home and that his ability to repay his other creditors was damaged by the publicity of the raid. He said revenue from his marketing and management consulting businesses, 259 Strategies, fell from $341,000 in 2011 to $20,000 in 2012 earned before investigators arrived at his home and office.
After the investigation surfaced, he lost a $12,000-per-month contract with Delaware Valley High School, a for-profit company that at the time worked with school districts to educate students with discipline problems.
The IRS did not comment on the lawsuit Thursday. A Department of Justice spokeswoman declined to comment on the case. The department has never confirmed the existence of a criminal investigation of Fattah Jr., known as Chip, though it has been widely reported.
The suit was filed a week after his father, the 10-term Democratic Philadelphia congressman, disclosed that federal prosecutors had subpoenaed his congressional offices, seeking documents. In commenting on the subpoena, the elder Fattah questioned investigators' motives and tactics and the length of their multi-year investigation. He told The Inquirer he saw "improprieties in the conduct of it that could even stretch to illegalities."
It was not clear whether his comments were related to the IRS behavior alleged in his son's suit. Fattah Jr. said he could not comment on what his father meant; Rep. Fattah's office said Thursday it would not comment on the son's suit.
The suit seeks damages of $300,000 for the lost contract; $10,000 for tuition paid for Drexel University classes that Fattah Jr. says he was unable to complete because of the emotional distress of the raid publicity and damage to his name; $500,000 for harm to his reputation; $100,000 for loss of a potential performance bonus; and $18,001 in civil penalties Fattah Jr. says should be refunded to him.
The suit also asks for a formal apology from the IRS.