Philadelphia. (Credit: mandritoiu/Shutterstock.com)
Chaka “Chip” Fattah Jr. can move forward with his lawsuit alleging a federal agent improperly alerted the press that the FBI and IRS would be raiding his marketing business, a federal judge has ruled.
Fattah Jr., currently serving a five-year prison sentence for bank fraud, claimed a federal agent contacted the media before notifying his lawyer of the pre-dawn Feb. 29, 2012, raid. The ensuing media coverage included articles and photos of agents serving him search warrants and confiscating a computer at his office located in a small Center City law firm, all of which Fattah Jr. said damaged his reputation and cost him his job.
While U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Savage of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held that Fattah Jr. wasn’t entitled to have his tax debt wiped away for the leak, as Fattah Jr. had sought, he did write in his Wednesday opinion that the son of former Congressman Chaka Fattah could move forward with his claim for damages against the government for the federal agent’s improper disclosure to the media.
The government admitted liability for the leak, but argued that Fattah Jr. wasn’t entitled to damages because no harm was done. But Fattah Jr. claimed the publicity got him fired from his legal marketing job by the attorney he shared an office with, David Shulick. The government argued that he quit.
“These conflicting versions of why and how Fattah’s business relationship with Shulick ended preclude summary judgment on the issue of Fattah’s actual damages. Resolution of the conflict turns on a credibility determination to be made by the fact-finder,” Savage said.
He continued, “At this stage, we cannot conclude that Fattah will be unable to prove noneconomic damages, such as damages for loss of reputation. He will be given the opportunity to prove both economic and noneconomic damages at trial. Then, if he does prove noneconomic damages, we shall address whether they are recoverable.”
Fattah Jr. represented himself in both his federal criminal trial and his lawsuit against the government. The allowance of part of his suit to move forward marks his first legal success as his own lawyer.
He was convicted in November 2015 of using bank loans to fund his lavish lifestyle, which included expensive clothing, cars, and a penthouse at the Ritz-Carlton.
Fattah Jr. also asked the court for punitive damages five times the amount of damages determined at trial. But Savage said it was too soon to approve that request, reasoning that the punitive damages couldn’t be determined until the trial was over.
Less than a year after his own conviction, Fattah Jr.’s father suffered a similar fate.
The older Fattah was found guilty of all 22 charges against him after a month-long corruption trial and three days of deliberation. He was convicted of using grant funds to repay $600,000 of an illegal million-dollar campaign loan from his failed 2007 Philadelphia mayoral bid, taking bribes, paying off his son’s student loan debt with campaign money, obstruction of justice, and money laundering. Four of those counts were tossed in October, however the reduction in counts did not save him from receiving a decade-long prison term.
In addition to a term of three years’ supervised release, U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III, the same judge who sentenced his son, also ordered the senior Fattah to pay $614,000 in restitution to the government agencies he defrauded in order to get himself out of campaign debt.
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