PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Telling the Third Circuit he can no longer afford the attorney of his choice, the incarcerated son of Congressman Chaka Fattah, a fellow federal inmate, seemed to overturn his conviction at oral argument.
Chaka Fattah Jr. appeared before the federal appeals court Tuesday one year into his five-year sentence for tax fraud.
Fattah Jr. appeared pro se at his 2015 trial as well, but faced far stricter confines before the Third Circuit. Given just five minutes to challenge his conviction, the 33-year-old hardly broached the jury’s findings that he lied to banks to receive loans, defrauded the School District of Philadelphia of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and ran a phony consulting firm to cover gambling debts and feed other expensive tastes, including luxury cars and suits.
Fattah focused instead on the rogue FBI agent who admittedly leaked word of the government’s investigation of Fattah Jr. years before it arrested the consultant.
After the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on a raid on Fattah Jr.’s Ritz-Carlton condominium in 2012, the government initially denied being the source of the leak.
Richard Haag, the lead FBI agent on the Fattah Jr. case, came forward as the leak, however, on the stand at trial.
Fattah Jr. curried little favor from the three-judge appellate panel Tuesday in blaming the FBI agent for costing him his job with the for-profit Delaware Valley High School.
Through his consulting company, Fattah Jr. drew $450,000 from beleaguered Philadelphia schools at a time the district was closing dozens of sites and laying off thousands of teachers.
U.S. Attorney Eric Gibson called the leaks “regrettable,” but pointed out that it was Fattah Jr.’s lack of experience in education, as well as lack of college degree, that hurt his chances of financial success.
The court, which tapped outside attorney Ellen Brotman to advise Fattah Jr., reserved decision. U.S. Circuit Judges D. Brooks Smith, Cheryl Ann Krause and Thomas Hardiman presided.
Fattah Jr. told reporters this past January that life in prison wasn’t as bad as he’d expected; the congressman’s son indeed predicted after his conviction that he “would not survive incarceration.”
“There are no cell doors,” Fattah Jr. reportedly said in a phone call from jail. “Think loft-style.”
This conversation occurred about a month after Fattah Sr. was sentenced to a 10-year prison term for stealing government and charity funds to pay his son’s debts and buy a vacation home.
Before his 2015 indictment, the Democratic Fattah spent two decades in Congress.