Convicted Dems Corrine Brown and Chaka Fattah Still Receiving Taxpayer-Funded Pensions

Brown and Fattah both sentenced to prison on corruption charges

Chaka Fattah, convicted former representative (D., Pa.) / Getty Images
January 25, 2018

Former Democratic representatives Corrine Brown (Fla.) and Chaka Fattah (Pa.) are still receiving taxpayer-funded federal pensions despite being convicted and sentenced to prison on corruption charges.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon that Brown is still receiving Federal Employees' Retirement System annuity benefits even though she was sentenced to prison for wire fraud and tax evasion—actions that stemmed from a sham charity founded by the former congresswoman.

OPM would not say how much Brown is receiving and added that the details of an individual's annuity are protected from public release under the Freedom of Information Act.

Brown was sentenced to five years in prison last December and is still allowed to collect the government pension due to a loophole in the current law, according to Demian Brady, the director of research at the National Taxpayers Union (NTU).

Brady told the Free Beacon that based on Brown's time in office, she is eligible for an annual annuity of up to $66,000 due to a loophole in the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007. "The language of that law cuts off a federal annuity for former Members of Congress upon being 'finally convicted' for corruption."

"The loophole in the current law allows a politician sentenced to prison to continue to collect the pensions until a 'final conviction' is given when all appeals are exhausted," said Brady. "For as long as a Brown is able to file appeals, even from a jail cell, she will not be considered 'finally convicted' and will remain eligible for her generous pension."

Brown and her former chief of staff, Elias "Ronnie" Simmons were initially indicted in July 2016 and ultimately found guilty on 18 of the 22 counts levied against them. More than $800,000 was deposited into One Door for Education, Brown's Virginia-based charitable foundation, with only $1,200 of the funds going to charity.

Brown, Elias, and Carla Wiley, the foundation's president, instead spent the money on luxury vacations, NFL tickets, plane tickets, lavish events, and car repairs. Brown had taken money from the foundation and steered it to her personal bank account.

Wiley, who at one point lied to the FBI, admitted during the two-week trial she had funneled $140,000 into Brown's bank account. Wiley pleaded guilty on conspiracy to commit wire fraud in early 2016.

Simmons additionally said during trial that Brown had directed him to take money from the charity. The two had testified against Brown as part of a plea agreement.

Brown's lawyers have said they intend to appeal the conviction as far as they can. Brown must report to prison by Jan. 29.

"The appeals process can go on for years, as we can see from the case of Representative Chaka Fattah, who is still collecting a pension worth up to $55,000 a year, even though he has been in jail for over a year now," said Brady.

OPM additionally confirmed that Fattah is still receiving his federal pension.

Fattah and four associates were convicted on 29 counts of corruption charges after misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars from federal, charitable, and campaign sources.

Fattah took an illegal $1 million dollar loan from his failed Philadelphia mayoral bid in 2007 and disguised it as a loan to a consulting company that he owned at the time.

Fattah then attempted to repay the loan from grants and charitable funds given to his nonprofit, the Educational Advancement Alliance, by passing it through two other companies by using sham contracts to disguise the repayments. During this process, false entries were made into campaign finance disclosures, tax returns, and accounting records.

The former congressman also took an $18,000 bribe from lobbyist Herbert Vederman in exchange for pushing for Vederman to receive an ambassadorship or appointment to the U.S. Trade Commission. The payment was disguised as a car sale that never occurred.

Fattah, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison, was reported in December to still be collecting his pension by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Fattah's lawyer, Bruce Merenstein, would not comment on how long he plans on filing appeals on Fattah's behalf.

Brady said that legislation introduced by Rep. Claudia Tenney (R., N.Y.) would close this loophole that allows the former representatives to collect their pensions despite being convicted.

"The No Pensions for Corrupt Politicians Act, introduced by Representative Claudia Tenney, would restore the intent of the ethics laws that Congress previously enacted," said Brady. "Convicted members would lose their pension upon sentencing, and any foregone amount would be paid in full if an appeal proves successful and the conviction is overturned. This reform would help protect taxpayers from subsidizing the retirement of Members who are guilty of serious criminal conduct in public office."