Prosecutors say congressman seeking to influence jurors

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah has tried to influence potential jurors in his racketeering case by publicly boasting about his accomplishments in Congress, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

Department of Justice lawyers said in a motion filed Wednesday that Fattah, a Philadelphia Democrat, also has questioned their motives in prosecuting him. They cited what he has said to media outlets and in an online video since he was charged last month with racketeering conspiracy, fraud, money laundering and other crimes.

Fattah, in the video, touts his record securing millions of dollars in federal funding for issues such as education, job training and medical research.

"I have helped more young people in our city, region and country than anyone else that can be identified," Fattah says.

Prosecutors want a judge to block Fattah from making such arguments at trial.

"Fattah's work on these issues as a congressman is irrelevant to his guilt or innocence of the charges in the indictment," prosecutor Eric L. Gibson said.

Fattah is accused of using federal grants and charitable donations to repay a wealthy donor's illegal $1 million campaign loan and funneling campaign funds toward his son's student loan. He has denied any wrongdoing, emphatically telling a judge in his first court appearance on the charges: "I plead innocent — not guilty" and "I haven't committed any crime."

He called the motion filed by prosecutors on Wednesday "almost laughable."

"The Department of Justice didn't have any concerns about unduly influencing a jury when they were leaking information to the press during the eight-year investigation or when they held a nationally televised press conference on the indictment that they knew presented outright lies and half truths," he said in a statement.

Prosecutors say agents targeted Fattah for only two years.

Fattah has vowed to remain in office, run for a 12th term next year and remove "the cloud from my very good reputation." He has asked the House judiciary and oversight committees to preserve all material related to the case and to review it for "unconstitutional or unlawful behavior." He has said that lawmakers have been targeted by "unconstitutional and illegal investigations" for decades.

The indictment also charges four Fattah associates, including former staff members, with crimes and accuses his wife, a local TV anchor, of being linked to an $18,000 sham sale of a luxury car.

Fattah's son awaits trial on an overlapping case that includes charges he misspent $930,000 in federal education funding. The son, Chaka Fattah Jr., has vowed to clear his name and called his arrest politically motivated.

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