An increasingly testy atmosphere dominated the courtroom Thursday as Chaka Fattah Jr. began presenting his defense in his federal fraud case.
Fattah's first witness was former Gov. Ed Rendell — who testified that his 2002 campaign for governor hired Fattah's photo company, Fattahgraphy, for $5,000, and that he was very satisfied with the work.
As for the specifics of the federal indictment — which accuses Fattah of cooking up numerous businesses to acquire huge business loans which financed a luxurious lifestyle and of overbilling the School District of Philadelphia as a consultant to a charter school — Rendell said he had no idea what any of it was about.
"I testified to the facts. ... I assume they were relevant," Rendell said outside court of his testimony.
Asked how Fattahgraphy fit in with the broader case, Rendell said, "I have no clue."
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors and agents barely concealed their exasperation, disdain and even anger as they listened to questions from the man on trial acting as his own attorney.
Fattah Jr., who is not a lawyer, asked lengthy questions, which he frequently rephrased or withdrew, leaving numerous federal agents who he questioned saying "I don't understand" or "Can you repeat the question?"
Related link: Chaka Fattah Jr. federal fraud trial begins
Prosecutor Paul Gray objected at one point, stating, "I think Mr. Fattah speaking out loud constantly is a form of testifying. ... It's totally improper."
Judge Harvey Bartle III agreed, telling Fattah Jr. to "stop making statements about what's true and what's not true" during arguments and questions.
The jury judging Fattah Jr. is nearly all-white, with only two South Asian men, and just three women.
Fattah Jr. called lawyer Steve Kaplan, general counsel for the Democratic City Committee, who testified about a $5,000 payment by Congressman Bob Brady's 2002 campaign to Fattagraphy for services.
When Kaplan acknowledged he did not work with Fattah Jr. in years past 2005 — the period at stake in the trial — prosecutor Eric Gibson asked him "Why are you here?"
Fattah Jr. objected, and the question was thrown out without being answered.
Fattah's defense case is scheduled to continue today.