Chaka Fattah is facing some serious prison time next week at his sentencing hearing on federal corruption charges.
We don't expect U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III to give the 60-year-old ex-congressman the 17 to 22 years the feds are asking for, but a double-digit sentence is entirely possible.
It's not looking good for ol' Chaka.
But Fattah wouldn't even have been convicted in June if Bartle hadn't dismissed the lone holdout on the jury. That's the theory, at any rate, at a mysterious new website called thefattahcase.com, which claims to be run by a dozen former Fattah staffers - all of whom insist on anonymity.
"We know firsthand - up close and personal if you will - what kind of man he is, his true character. We want to see justice carried out fairly and this is something we think we can do to help," one of the anonymous supposed former staffers wrote in an email Tuesday announcing the launch of the site.
The website includes more than 300 pages of documents and seeks to poke holes in the government's case.
When we replied to the email, the respondents wrote that they'd be "happy to arrange for one of us to speak with you." But a subsequent email stated: "There is no one to speak to you by phone. The story isn't about us but about the injustice taking place in the Fattah case." Signed: "The Official Record."
Is that you, Chaka?
Fattah didn't respond to our questions about the website, so we emailed his former campaign manager, Joe Certaine, asking if perhaps Certaine was behind it. He said nay. "I don't quite understand the purpose and why the anonymity," Certaine responded. "Having said that, this is Philly."
Regardless, a question raised by this shadowy group of extremely loyal ex-staffers is a good one: Why did Bartle replace the only juror who insisted that the government hadn't proved its case? If he had remained, the trial might have ended in a hung jury. Should it have?
Ralph Cipriano, a former Inquirer reporter now writing at BigTrial.net, has interviewed the dismissed juror. Cipriano reports that the juror, a Lancaster County businessman who said he is a former Army paratrooper, maintains that he was not refusing to deliberate, but simply disagreed with the 11 jurors who were convinced that Fattah was guilty of bribery, money laundering and fraud.
Once that juror was dismissed - and security officers escorted him from the federal courthouse - the jury convicted Fattah on all counts. The other jurors aren't talking.
"He didn't buy the government's case at all," Cipriano told Clout on Thursday. "Obviously he was alone on that, but I don't know why they threw him off."
Very few people do. We called Bartle's chambers Thursday and were told by a staffer that the transcript pertaining to the dismissed juror remains under seal. The judge also has prohibited the lawyers from talking about it.
Fattah's attorney, Mark Lee, was a no-comment, as was Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Gray.
But don't the voters of Philadelphia have a right to know why the trial of their then-sitting congressman ended in a conviction rather than a hung jury? Why all this secrecy nearly six months after the verdict?
Hmmm, Clout might have to ask the junkyard dogs in Legal to look into getting that transcript unsealed. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, Fattah was on the Heart of the City radio show on 860AM Wednesday, discussing his new neuroscience consulting group and his plan to form an association of former African American members of Congress. Fattah then compared himself to past presidents leaving the White House.
"We've seen it with other former elected officials - President Carter, President Clinton - who set up entities to continue their work," Fattah told host Malik Boyd. "I'm going to do likewise."
When it comes to politics and the law, attorney Larry Otter is about as ecumenical as a guy can be.
In just this election cycle alone, Otter has represented Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the Republican presidential primaries; Osborne Hart, the Socialist Workers Party vice presidential nominee (who also ran for mayor of Philadelphia last year) and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein in her recount efforts.
That last one is causing a few problems for Otter.
Otter is due to appear in federal court in Philadelphia on Friday for Stein, seeking a statewide recount. Some people apparently find that upsetting. Otter said he has been bombarded with weird emails, many appearing to come from an account in Germany.
"Some are in German," Otter said. "Some were in English. It's crazy stuff."
Otter also said he received an ominous phone call at 1:13 p.m. Thursday from a man who said, "Stop what you're doing," and then hung up.
"I perceived that as a threat to my safety," said Otter, who lives in Bucks County. "I have dutifully reported it to the local authorities."
Otter gave us the phone number of the caller, which tracked back to northwestern New York. So we called.
What answered was a recording for a man speed-talking a pitch for a multilevel marketing opportunity. Seemed totally legit, offering a chance to make "five figures" per month and a promise that "this is not some pyramid or Ponzi scheme."
We listened for 10 minutes. The speed-talker never mentioned what product he was trying to get people to sell. We hung up.
Otter said his local police department referred the email portion of his encounter to the FBI and the phone call to the Bucks County District Attorney's Office.
- Staff writers William Bender, Chris Brennan, and Jeremy Roebuck
contributed to this column.