Last month, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah took his case to the voters, who booted him from office after a two-decade congressional career.

This week, the Philadelphia Democrat will face a smaller panel, 12 jurors, with a much larger concern at stake - his freedom.

Opening arguments in Fattah's federal racketeering conspiracy trial are set to begin Monday in what promises to be one of the most closely watched political cases in recent Philadelphia history.

The congressman and four close political allies are charged with misusing federal grant funds, campaign contributions, and charitable donations to pay off Fattah's debts and further his career - in which he has risen from West Philadelphia political upstart to member of Congress' old guard and holder of a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

It's from there that Fattah says he has steered millions of dollars to good causes, helping untold numbers of people. But prosecutors contend he also used the post to help himself, funneling money to pay his bills while hiding behind the guise of public good works.

"I'm an appropriator," Fattah said in a recent interview discussing his congressional career. "I put money behind things that matter."

Lawyers on both sides of the case have largely kept their strategies to themselves.

But early prosecution witness lists released last year suggest Pennsylvania political luminaries like Sen. Bob Casey, former Gov. Ed Rendell, and State Sen. Vincent Hughes could testify in a trial that both sides say could last eight weeks.

Though he could face significant prison time if convicted, Fattah projected his usual unwavering confidence as he arrived at the federal courthouse on Market Street for jury selection last week.

"I look forward," he told reporters, "to cutting through the fiction to get to the facts."

By any measure, it has been a tough year for Fattah, 59, and his family.

Aside from his election loss to State Rep. Dwight Evans in last month's Democratic primary, the congressman's son, Chaka "Chip" Jr., was sentenced to prison on bank and tax fraud charges in February.

His wife, former NBC10 news anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah, though not charged, saw her career end this year after she was linked to what prosecutors have described as a sham 2012 sale of her Porsche convertible, meant to cover up a bribe her husband accepted from a lobbyist.

Yet in the days after his first election-day loss since 1991, Fattah was still campaigning.

He summoned a reporter to his Capitol Hill office, where he presented a two-page, nine-point document: "Congressman Fattah Statement on Accomplishments."

And, he added, it didn't cover everything.

"There are millions of people that are alive today because of the work that I've done to clean up the blood supply in sub-Saharan Africa - and that's not on the list," Fattah pointed out.

He spent much of the next 40 minutes outlining bills he helped pass, money he directed, and praise he received - while insisting it wasn't about him but the people he helped.

Atop his personal list of accomplishments was GEAR Up, a college-readiness program begun during the Clinton administration that Fattah endlessly promotes.

He cited millions of people who have Alzheimer's or a relative with the disease who have been helped by his more recent work steering federal funds to brain research.

Even so, that history of funneling taxpayer money into nonprofits is what landed the congressman in trouble.

Two associates have pleaded guilty to helping Fattah route $600,000 in charitable donations and grants, through a nonprofit he created, to pay back an illegal $1 million loan to his failed 2007 campaign for Philadelphia mayor.

Prosecutors have also accused him of stealing hundreds of thousands more to pay campaign consultants, as well as his son's college debts.

All the while, investigators say, Fattah was accepting bribes from the politically connected lobbyist Herbert Vederman, who was desperate for a political appointment in the Obama administration.

Fattah has consistently declined to discuss the details of the allegations and has talked instead about his work for his community - so much so that prosecutors have pushed to have such grand pronouncements barred from the courtroom.

They argue that Fattah should have to address the charges, not the rest of his career. He says the two are inextricably linked.

The case he faces Monday doesn't just cast a shadow over his time in Congress. It calls into question the work he holds out as his legacy.

Reflecting on the upset victory that sent him to Washington 22 years ago - unseating U.S. Rep. Lucien Blackwell - he maintained that his place in history mattered.

"I'm the longest-serving African American ever elected to Congress from our state," Fattah said. "There's no other person from my community that's alive that has any idea what this job is all about."

And yet, with only months left before his term runs out, Fattah said he hoped to push one last initiative through Congress - a plan to steer billions in corporate fines to medical research, youth mentoring, and postprison reentry programs.

The jury's verdict could determine whether he'll have the time to do it.

215-854-2608 @jeremyrroebuck