Dem congressman pushes back at DOJ corruption probe

Dem congressman pushes back at DOJ corruption probe
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Rep. Chaka FattahChaka FattahThe year the party machines broke Jury convicts the son of Rep. Chaka Fattah Dem congressman pushes back at DOJ corruption probe MORE (D-Pa.) took to Twitter on Saturday and attempted to lampoon a federal corruption investigation currently ongoing against him.
 
Fattah and some of his associates have been wrapped up on a wide-ranging probe by the Department of Justice that includes charges of bribery, racketeering, illegal use of campaign funds and theft of charity money. The indictment came out last week. 
 
The congressman singled out one specific accusation Saturday – that an aide had secured $50,000 in funding support for a conference that the indictment alleges never occurred.
 
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“DOJ indictment falsely says that 'the Fattah founded Annual National Conference on Higher Education' never happen,” he tweeted, along with a link to a blog written by an attendee, dated Feb. 21, 2012. 
 
He also included pictures of himself at the event and re-tweeted others who remembered being at the conference that February. 
 
The Justice Department claims former aide Karen Nicholas, who ran the Fattah-founded non-profit organization that put on the education conference, allegedly defrauded the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 
 
The agency sometimes helps fund organizations that share its goals, with education being among them.
 
In December 2011, Nicholas allegedly initially asked for $409,000 to cover the cost of the event, which was scheduled for Feb. 17-19, according to the documents. 
 
The investigation says NOAA replied that she had missed the deadline to request funds for that fiscal year, but that it would provide $50,000 “in principle” to help support the conference. Nicholas still needed to submit an application and go through the grant review process, the agency said.
 
Nicholas allegedly submitted the formal application for the funds on May 11, saying the event would take place between Jan. 1 and June 20 in 2012, but did not specify a date. On June 28, NOAA asked in an email for clarification on when it would be.
 
The Justice Department says she then replied on July 12 that the National Conference on Higher Education would take place between Oct. 19-21 of 2012.
 
On Aug. 7, “based on the representations made by Nicholas, NOAA approved a ‘late action request’ to provide grant funding in the amount of $50,000 for the purported 2012 conference,” Justice Department documents say.
 
“Although no October conference was ever held, Nicholas subsequently took the NOAA funds and spent the funds on [former Fattah aide Gregory] Naylor and herself,” the indictment alleges.
 
Fattah pushed back against the charges, in part arguing with the Justice Department’s timeline. 
 
He pointed out that the initial funding request clearly specified that the money would be spent between January and June and NOAA did not reach out for a clarification on the conference date until June 28, at the tail end of that timeframe.
 
"They don’t provide the emails from NOAA, they don’t say what changes were asked to be made," he told The Hill in a brief telephone interview.
 
“Oct is a special month simply because [it’s the beginning of the] fiscal yr,” Fattah earlier told The Hill in one tweet, when asked about the specifics of the indictment.
 
He elaborated that he chalks the February-October descrepancy up to "purely a grant-management exercise with no fraudulent intentions by anyone."
 
"They had a commitment in January, but the grant-making process for that fiscal year had been obligated," he said. "They were interested in this project, but it was like, we’ll give you money but it’ll be in the next fiscal year when you’ll get the money."
 
"There’s one conference founded by me, there’s one conference under that name. It’s taken place up until that point 25 times in the same city and in the same hotel," he said, adding that each time, the conference took place in February. "It is the same conference that funds were requested for and agreed to in January.”
 
Fattah founded the Educational Advancement Alliance (EAA), which hosted the conference, in 1990 while serving in the Pennsylvania statehouse and its aim was to create supplemental education programs for kids. The now-defunct organization has previously been a target of federal investigation that questioned how it spent its money.
 
"The largest and largest sustained effort in the country to produce minority PHDs in our time – they’re saying that it’s part of a fraud," Fattah told The Hill on Saturday before passing along an article from 2010 that touted one of its summer programs for young children.
 
This post was updated at 3:48 p.m.