Lobbyist and former Deputy Mayor Herbert Vederman made his first federal court appearance Wednesday on charges that he bribed U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) with gifts of cash, tuition payments for the congressman's au pair, and $18,000 disguised as payment for a 1989 Porsche convertible.
Dressed in a dark suit and tie, Vederman, 69, said nothing during the perfunctory hearing. He did not enter a plea to the charges but is expected to do so later.
He declined to comment after being released on $100,000 recognizance bail. His lawyer, Catherine M. Recker, has accused prosecutors of misunderstanding a long-term friendship between her client and the congressman.
"The government has cherry-picked facts to support its cynical view of friendship, and wrongly labeled it bribery. Mr. Vederman will plead not guilty and will defend himself at trial," Recker said July 29, the day federal authorities unveiled a 29-count racketeering conspiracy indictment against him, Fattah, and three others.
Starting in 2008, prosecutors allege, Fattah became an ardent advocate for Vederman, who had worked as deputy mayor under Ed Rendell and was seeking an appointment as an ambassador from the Obama White House.
The congressman pressed the lobbyist's case to other elected officials, the office of then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and even the president himself - going so far as to slip a letter recommending Vederman directly into Obama's palm during an October 2010 political event.
When those efforts appeared to fail, Fattah purportedly sought Vederman's appointment to a position as a U.S. trade representative.
Investigators have accused Vederman of buying the congressman's advocacy through support of Fattah's au pair and cash gifts passed through Fattah's son, Chaka "Chip" Fattah Jr.
According to the indictment, the lobbyist also gave the elder Fattah $18,000 to help secure a mortgage for a Poconos vacation home. The men disguised that payment, prosecutors say, by arranging for a sham sale of the Porsche, driven by Fattah's wife, longtime NBC10 anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah.
Though title for the car was transferred to Vederman's name, Chenault-Fattah kept the car. She has since said in a statement that she was merely holding onto it until the lobbyist could come to claim it. She has not been charged with a crime.
Days after that $18,000 transaction took place, Vederman's longtime girlfriend was given a job in Fattah's district office as a special assistant to the congressman.
Fattah has denied all of the allegations against him and vowed to fight the case. He is expected to make an initial court appearance this month.