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August 18, 2015

Fattah makes first court appearance

Continues to proclaim innocence

Embattled U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah entered the federal courtroom where his indictment over corruption charges will be eventually decided at 1:27 p.m. Tuesday and sat on the front row.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice entered a few minutes later and Fattah's first words to the judge were: "I'm not guilty."

"We haven't gotten there yet," Rice told the representative and asked him to be patient about proclaiming his innocence after Fattah made a third attempt at saying he was not guilty of a 29-count racketeering conspiracy indictment.

"We all have to follow the rules," responded Fattah.

The hearing came about three weeks after prosecutors accused the 11-term Democratic congressman of using federal grant money and charitable donations under his control to pay off debts and enrich his family and inner circle.

The congressman appeared with two others also charged in the case:  Karen Nicholas, a former staffer; and Robert Brand, a family friend.

Fattah, who represents parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. He has also brushed off calls for his resignation. 

He has questioned prosecutors’ motives and tactics in letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He has called on the Department of Justice to preserve all records for an investigation after the trial.

The charges against him and his associates have their roots in his 2007 bid for mayor.

Former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Herbert Vederman and Bonnie Bowser, his chief of staff in his district office, were  also charged in the case and pleaded not guilty at a hearing last week.

After a clerk read Fattah's charges, the magistrate set bail at $100,000, but allowed Fattah to be released on his own recognizance without putting up any money.

He was also allowed to retain his diplomatic passport for use in his position as a congressman, but was ordered to surrender his personal passport.

The judge took exception to prosecutor's attempt to order Fattah not to have any contact with an undisclosed list of potential witnesses. The government wanted to supply the list when it hand over discovery.

Rice ordered that a list be supplied to Fattah immediately.

Outside the federal courthouse, the congressman said he understood the charges being leveled at him because of his position, but he said involving "innocent people and my family" showed the character of the prosecutors.

He spoke of continuing to serve his district, but said he would leave questions about specifics to his lawyers, Kevin Mincey and Thomas Fitzpatrick.

He then turned and walked away from a mass of reporters, announcing, "I'm going back to work."