Former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Herbert Vederman can postpone the start of his prison term while he appeals his conviction for bribing U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
The decision came a day after U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III denied a similar request from Fattah, who is set to begin serving a 10-year sentence next month.
Explaining the difference in his treatment of the two men, Bartle pointed out that Vederman, 71, had only been convicted of crimes tied to a series of bribes he paid Fattah, including cash payments to the congressman's children, college tuition for his South African au pair, and $18,000 to help with the purchase of a vacation home in the Poconos.
Fattah, meanwhile, was found guilty of bribery as well as charges tied to a host of other crimes including aiding in the theft of $600,000 from an education nonprofit to pay back an illegal campaign loan, the judge wrote in an opinion.
To obtain bail pending appeal, a defendant must show an appeal raises a "substantial question of law or fact" that likely to result in a conviction's reversal.
Fattah and Vederman, who was sentenced to two years in prison last week, pointed to the same case in order to meet that burden: the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last year overturning the bribery conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and narrowing the legal definitions of political bribery.
The high court ruled — just six days after a jury convicted Vederman and Fattah — that federal bribery laws do not cover gifts exchanged for routine courtesies such as setting up meetings, hosting events, or making calls on behalf of constituents.
And both men now maintain that the actions Fattah took in exchange for Vederman's gifts fell squarely within those guidelines. They included lobbying White House officials to help Vederman land an appointment as an ambassador and hiring the man's girlfriend for a job in Fattah's district office, at which she rarely appeared.
Bartle, in his opinion Tuesday, disagreed, saying that Fattah's efforts were clearly official acts even under the new parameters set by the McDonnell decision.
"Nevertheless," the judge wrote, "we acknowledge that McDonnell in narrowing the meaning of 'official act,' announced a major change in the legal landscape" that remains to be settled in appellate courts.
Fattah and Vederman, who served as deputy mayor under Ed Rendell, are expected to file their appeals in the coming weeks.