Who Will John McDaniel Help the FBI Take Down?

Speculation builds as the Philly political insider is expected to plead guilty on Valentine's Day.

On February 6th, former Blondell Reynolds Brown campaign manager turned $87,000-a-year airport patronage appointee John McDaniel (seen here with Bill Clinton and President Obama via Twitter) was charged by the FBI with one count of wire fraud, a federal crime.

According to documents filed in the case by U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger, “McDaniel unlawfully withdrew and stole approximately $100,000” and then filed “false and incomplete campaign finance reports” to cover up his crime. If convicted, McDaniel could face a maximum of 30 years in jail and a $250,000 fine. The feds don’t mess around.

When news of McDaniel’s troubles surfaced last week, just a week after Reynolds Brown admitted to her own lawbreaking activities, it was reported that McDaniel was cooperating with authorities. And why wouldn’t he be? If he received the max, the 39-year-old would be one year shy of 70 when he got out of prison, and with a degree in criminal justice from Bloomsburg University (according to his LinkedIn profile), McDaniel knows how the system works.

McDaniel’s cooperation with the FBI and federal prosecutors has spawned a whole lot of speculation behind the scenes. After all, if he’s cooperating with authorities, just who is the real target?

“Why would the FBI be interested in some schmuck who stole $100,000?” asked one government insider last week. “People steal $100,000 all the time. This is small potatoes. He must have something big, and the feds must know that.”

Of course, it’s not really true that the FBI categorically ignores such relatively small amounts of money. In 2006, City Councilman Rick Mariano was sent to federal prison over “only” $30,000 in bribes. But Mariano was an elected official. McDaniel is just some behind-the-scenes guy with good connections. And it is those connections that must have the FBI salivating.

“When you deal with political corruption cases, there is no monetary threshold for the feds,” says local attorney Joseph Grimes, who has represented dozens of “cooperators” in federal cases. “But they’re also always prosecuting up. If they get the squeeze on someone at a lower level, they use the pressure to get information about other, bigger people up the chain.”

Reynolds Brown has already admitted to “accepting prohibited gifts and failing to disclose transactions.” Is there a bigger person up the chain here? Is someone going to finally stand up to the patronage potty known as the Philadelphia Airport? Does this relate to Chaka Fattah Jr., son of the Congressman, whose name came up in the Reynolds Brown reports and whom the FBI has been investigating? Or do the feds have their sights set on even bigger fish? Somebody has got to be sweating big time.

Only time will tell who that is. But with McDaniel scheduled to turn up at the federal courthouse on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. to enter a plea in his case (he’s expected to plead guilty), that clock is ticking.