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December 12, 2016

Fattah joins long list of congressmen sent to prison since 2000

Former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah became the latest federal lawmaker to be sentenced to prison on charges of corruption.

The 10-year sentence that U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III handed to Fattah on Monday fell significantly short of the punishment requested by prosecutors. But the sentence stands among the lengthiest given to a current or former member of Congress convicted of federal corruption charges in the last 16 years.

Since 2000, at least 10 other current or former members of Congress have been convicted or pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. Two of them — U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska — had their convictions overturned. 

The eight others — all House members — each spent time behind bars. Their prisons terms ranged from a few years to more than a decade for offenses that included using campaign funds to purchase a mink cape, requiring staffers to complete personal chores and sending mishandled funds to a church. 

The corrupt pols themselves included a man with an infamous toupee and a leader of the "freedom fries" publicity campaign. They included a Vietnam War veteran and a former FBI agent. Another had $90,000 hidden in his freezer. 

Here are each of them, in order of the most recent sentencing dates.   

Michael Grimm, R-New York

Grimm was sentenced to eight months in prison in July 2015 after pleading guilty to one count of tax fraud. A former FBI agent, Grimm had faced a 20-count indictment stemming from his management of a Manhattan restaurant called Healthalicious. Though he pleaded guilty to just one charge, Grimm also signed a statement admitting he had underreported wages and sales, filed false tax returns and committed perjury in a lawsuit related to the restaurant. He was released early after serving seven months in prison.

Rick Renzi, R-Arizona

Originally sentenced in October 2013, Renzi began serving a three-year sentence in February 2015 after an appellate court upheld his conviction on 17 counts of extortion, racketeering and money laundering. Prosecutors said his schemes included an illegal swap of federal land for an alfalfa farm. They also claimed he embezzled client money from his insurance brokerage to fund his campaign. A federal grand jury indicted him in 2008, prompting him to forgo a re-election bid. 

Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Illinois

Jackson received a prison sentence of two years and six months in April 2013 after he pleaded guilty to using $750,000 of his campaign funds on personal items, including mink capes, mounted elk heads and a $43,000 Rolex. Jackson stepped down before the charges were brought, citing ill health and an ongoing federal investigation. He served one year and 11 months, including time in a halfway house. 

William Jefferson, D-Louisiana

Jefferson was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2009 after he was convicted on 11 charges of corruption, including bribery. The punishment marked the longest jail term ever handed out to a member or former member of Congress for crimes committed while in office. Jefferson was found guilty of seeking to enrich his family by accepting bribes involving business ventures in Africa. When the FBI raided his home in August 2005, agents found $90,000 hidden the freezer of his home. Jefferson lost a 2008 re-election bid.

Robert Ney, R-Ohio

Ney was sentenced to two years and six months in prison in January 2007 for illegal dealings with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ney, who previously had mandated that french fries be renamed "freedom fries" on House food service menus, pleaded guilty in October 2006 to performing official acts in exchange for campaign contributions, meals, luxury travel and sports tickets. He resigned after Republican leaders threatened an expulsion vote. Ney was released early after serving 17 months.

Duke Cunningham, R-California

Cunningham received a prison sentence of eight years and four months in March 2006 after he pleaded guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors and evading taxes. At the time, the sentence was the highest for a former member of the U.S. Congress. A Vietnam War veteran and former Navy pilot, Cunningham resigned after entering his plea, ending a 15-year career on Capitol Hill. He was released early after serving more than seven years of his sentence, including time spent on house arrest.

Frank Ballance, D-North Carolina

Ballance was sentenced to four years in prison in October 2005 after pleading guilty to one charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering. A federal indictment alleged Ballance misused $2.3 million in state money allocated for a nonprofit he operated, instead enriching his church and family. Ballance resigned prior to the indictment, citing health concerns. He served the final three months of his sentence on house arrest.

James Traficant, D-Ohio

The late Traficant became just the second member of Congress to be expelled since the Civil War after he was convicted of 10 charges of corruption, including racketeering, bribery and fraud in 2002. Maintaining his innocence, Traficant refused to resign, forcing the House of Representatives to give him the boot, by a 420-1 vote. He was sentenced to eight years in prison for his crimes, which included requiring staff members to do personal chores and kick back a portion of their paychecks. He was released after serving seven years. Known for his toupee and colorful personality, Traficant died in 2014.