Indicted state Sen. Larry Farnese and committeeperson Ellen Chapman filed a scintillating 35-page motion to dismiss bribery charges brought against them by the US Department of Justice in May.
"The filing is the first opportunity Sen. Farnese has had to detail to the court why the prosecution’s case is not only a novel reading of the law, it is an incorrect one,” wrote Farnese lawyer Mark Sheppard, in a statement to City & State.
The two were charged in connection with a $6,000 payment made by Farnese’s political action committee to Bard College to send Chapman’s daughter on a semester abroad program. The payment was allegedly made to influence the outcome of a 2011 ward election that ultimately never took place.
The motion, filed last week, assails the 13 counts brought against the duo, which also include mail and wire fraud, and cites a recent Supreme Court decision overturning a bribery conviction against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell no less than 22 times.
The filing asserts that, as in the McDonnell case, “no exercise of government power” was made when the senator ordered the payment. Government money was not involved and Farnese was acting as a party member engaged in “routine internal party affairs.”
“The Philadelphia Democratic Party has the right to manage its internal affairs without fear of federal intervention,” the document states.
Additionally, the motion objects to a charge of “honest service fraud” – arguing that committee people do not have a duty to put the public interest ahead of party business.
Among its 21 separate subsections, the motion also concludes that Farnese’s payment was proper under PA finance law.
“If in Farnese’s judgment...it would advance his prospects for reelection if he were chosen as the ‘leader’ of the Eighth Ward, then his campaign committee could expend funds in its discretion to party activists to further that objective,” it reads.
The motion claims that for this and other reasons, Farnese’s actions do not constitute “bribery” and that the mail and wire fraud charges as alleged do not represent a “cognizable federal offense.”
It goes on to warn against the dangers of “heavy-handed federal court intervention” and the “granular” extension of state bribery statutes to include committee people.
“We believe the case should be dismissed with prejudice immediately, and if for some reason it is not, we remain confident Sen. Farnese will be complexly exonerated," Sheppard added.
Many of the arguments contained in the motion, and the attempt to dismiss itself, had been predicted by legal analysts.
Federal authorities do not publicly comment on pending cases.