Chaka Fattah Jr. was granted permission by a federal judge to act as his own attorney in court today, despite the judge advising him that such a move was "unwise."
"I’m ready to deal with these charges head-on and I’m prepared to raise a number of issues, and if nothing changes, go through with this trial and fight every charge," Fattah Jr. said outside of court after the hearing. "I remain confident of my innocence of these charges."
Fattah Jr., son of Congressman Chaka Fattah, was charged in August with a 23-count federal indictment that says he allegedly, while working as a consultant, overbilled a charter school that was in turn receiving funds from the city and state.
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He has proclaimed his own innocence and called the charges against him "politically motivated."
"I want to be able to address the court in my own voice," Fattah Jr. said at the hearing Friday on the issue of whether he could proceed pro se -- acting as his own attorney.
Judge Harvey Bartle III granted Fattah's request on Sixth Amendment grounds.
"In my opinion, a trained lawyer would defend you far better than you may defend yourself ...You don't have a great deal of familiarity with federal criminal procedure," Bartle said. "Ultimately, it's your choice."
"Yes, your honor," Fattah Jr. said repeatedly as Judge Bartle first asked if Fattah Jr. understood every count against him an the punishment that could accompany each count.
The indictment alleges in separate counts that Fattah Jr. made fraudulent statements in loan applications at banks including Citizens Bank, PNC, National Bank, Bank of America, Wachovia Bank and Sun National Bank. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 30 years and a $1 million fine.
If convicted of all counts and sentenced consecutively, Fattah Jr. would face a sentence of 418 years and a total fine of $12,425,000, along with other court costs and prosecutorial fees.
But Fattah Jr. claimed the indictment, which stems from his work as owner and proprietor of 259 Consulting, in which capacity he worked for Delaware Valley Charter Schools, an educational program for troubled youths, is flawed.
"We're about to get into a fight about the law," Fattah Jr. said. "Some of the things they charged me with are not federal crimes."
Fattah Jr. dismissed his public defenders due to disagreements about strategy,but they will remain assigned to his case as advisors.
The judge ruled that he is eligible for public defense as he has no assets and owes numerous debts.
Fattah Jr.'s father, Congressman Fattah, has reportedly been under investigation by federal authorities for years.
In recent months, two of Congressman Fattah's former business associates have pleaded guilty to federal charges reported to be related to how donations to Fattah's 2007 mayoral campaign fund were used and repaid.
"The federal government and the U.S. attorney's office is taking an interesting approach in this case, where they want to go after somebody else, and they're spending all their time focused on me," Fattah Jr. said, although he declined to comment on whether they are actually focused on his father.
"They're after a federal official, a federal elected official from Philadelphia who happens to have a similar name," he said, declining to comment further.
Fattah Jr. also filed a motion on Wednesday to quash the indictment against him.
"The records show that FBI agent Richard Haag and other individuals lied in front of the grand jury. Those lies were used to secure the indictment," Fattah Jr. said on Thursday. "I think the prosecutors in some cases knew the people were lying, and in other cases, they should have known."
Federal prosecutors are scheduled to respond to that motion before Christmas. They had no comment on Fattah Jr. representing himself in the case.