The former chief of staff to retired City Councilman Jack Kelly could be headed for a retrial in a case that at one time appeared to be coming to an end.
Chris Wright, of Fox Chase, and two other men were convicted by a jury in February 2009 on corruption charges and sentenced to federal prison.
However, in June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the honest services fraud law was vague as it pertains to failure to report a conflict of interest and, instead, could be applied only in cases of bribery and kickbacks.
Wright, Ravi Chawla and Andy Teitelman have been out on bail since that ruling. In January 2012, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the convictions.
Recently, defense lawyers and the U.S. Attorney’s Office struck a deal that would have allowed each defendant to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge, but serve no more prison time.
The deal was to be finalized last Friday.
U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger was in the courtroom for the proceeding, arguing that his office has limited resources, in part, because of the sequester deal between Congress and the White House. He also noted that lead prosecutor Jennifer Arbittier Williams is busy with terrorism cases.
But, U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno rejected the deal.
“These lenient recommended sentences are a signal to others that the vice of public corruption can be taken lightly,” he said.
On Monday, the defendants were back in court, and their attorneys told Robreno that they would be asking the Third Circuit to determine which charges the government can pursue in a retrial. The defense attorneys are confident of a favorable decision, pointing out that their clients were never charged with bribery, the key component of honest services fraud, as determined by the Supreme Court.
“There’s no basis for a retrial. The conduct they were charged with is not criminal,” said Lisa Mathewson, attorney for Wright.
The prosecution could ask the appeals court to reinstate all of the original charges, even the ones of which the defendants were acquitted.
The defense attorneys view that as double jeopardy and will vigorously oppose it.
“The issues we were acquitted on cannot be litigated,” said Ellen Brotman, Teitelman’s lawyer.
Initially, Wright was given a four-year sentence.
Chawla, a real estate developer and major donor to Kelly’s campaign, received a 30-month sentence. He is represented by attorney William Winning.
Teitelman — Kelly’s campaign treasurer, Chawla’s business attorney and Wright’s good friend — was sentenced to 24 months.
Hardeep Chawla, Ravi’s brother, was acquitted at trial.
The four were indicted in August 2008. The trial focused on Wright’s free use of an apartment and parking space on Delancey Street in Rittenhouse Square for 14 months, pro bono legal advice from Teitelman and a $1,000 payment. The defendants would have pleaded guilty to the use of the free apartment if the judge had agreed.
Prosecutors argued that Wright accepted the perks in exchange for helping the Chawlas’ development projects.
Defense attorneys contended that the apartment, money and legal advice were given out of friendship and concern for Wright, who was facing financial and personal issues.
Kelly was not implicated in the case, and he testified as a government witness. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org