Prosecutors in the federal corruption trial against U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) concluded their case Friday, clearing the way for the first defense witnesses to take the stand later this afternoon.
But first, lawyers for the congressman and his four co-defendants urged the U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III to immediately dismiss the charges against their clients, arguing that government lawyers had failed to prove their case.
Addressing the indictment's primary count - a racketeering conspiracy charge under which all five defendants are charged - defense lawyer Robert Welsh maintained that the government had failed to establish that Fattah and his associates set out to participate in a criminal enterprise to advance the congressman's career.
"There's no'thing' here," said Welsh, who represents Fattah family friend and fund-raiser Herbert Vederman. "There's no'it' here."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis shot back.
"The arguments Mr. Welsh made are merely restatements of arguments that the court already rejected," he said.
Bartle declined to dismiss the case.
The end of the government's case comes after 13 days of testimony in which prosecutors sought to show that for years, Fattah had accepted bribes and misappropriated charitable donations, campaign contributions and federal grant funds under his control to pay off his personal and political debts.
Aside from Vederman, Fattah's co-defendants include Karen Nicholas, who ran the Fattah-founded education nonprofit Educational Advancement Alliance; Robert Brand, a Fattah family friend who is married to a former employee of the congressman; and Bonnie Bowser, Fattah's former chief of staff in his Philadelphia office.
Prosecutors say all three aided in Fattah's crimes because they benefited from supporting the congressman's political career.