Feds Charge State Sen. Larry Farnese with Vote-Buying

Prosecutors say Farnese bribed a committee person to secure his election as Eighth Ward leader.

State Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, during a news conference Thursday, April 4, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

State Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, during a news conference Thursday, April 4, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

State Sen. Larry Farnese was accused in a federal indictment Tuesday of allegedly orchestrating a vote-buying scheme to help himself win election as the Democratic leader of the Eighth Ward in Center City.

Federal prosecutors say Farnese spent $6,000 in campaign funds to pay for a study-abroad program for committee person Ellen Chapman’s daughter. They claim that Chapman, in return, backed Farnese in his 2011 bid to become ward leader. Chapman had previously planned to support another candidate, according to the indictment.

The feds also contend that Farnese “disguised the true purpose of the payment by falsely listing it as a ‘donation’ on the campaign’s finance report.” Farnese and Chapman alike have been charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and Travel Act Violations.

Mark Sheppard, a lawyer for Farnese, strongly denied the charges in a statement Tuesday:

“Larry Farnese is 100 percent innocent of these novel charges and expects to be fully exonerated. There is no allegation that Sen. Farnese misused his office or government funds nor that he accepted any gift or kickback. These charges have no connection whatsoever to his senatorial office.

Rather, the Senator stands accused of making a contribution from his campaign account to a deserving young student’s scholarship fund in exchange for the support of the student’s mother in a party ward election. The government makes these charges despite the fact that the donation was properly reported almost five years ago; was given some five (5) months before a unanimous ward vote in which the Committeewoman did not even participate; and no other committee person has claimed to have been offered anything of value by Senator Farnese.

The application of federal law to circumstances such as these are not only novel (and what we believe to be the first of its kind), it is also dangerous. The government seeks to extend the reach of prosecutors well beyond accepted constitutional grounds and into areas of purely local party organizational politics.

In an oral argument last month, the Supreme Court questioned prosecutors’ attempts to criminalize well accepted political activity. As the Justices noted, politics in the real world is based on relationships, and public officials routinely advocate and provide support for constituents. That is all Senator Farnese is accused of here — performing a regular and appropriate part of being a community and political leader that the government would now like to be declared illegal.  For those reasons, we expect Senator Farnese’s complete exoneration.”

In other words, camp Farnese argues, this was standard-issue politics, not corruption.

Pennsylvania's 1st State Senatorial District

Pennsylvania’s 1st State Senatorial District

Farnese was first sworn into office as senator of Pennsylvania’s 1st District in 2009. He won the primary race last month with 74 percent of the vote. There is no Republican running against him in the fall.

Farnese’s two predecessors in the 1st Senate District, Vince Fumo and Henry “Buddy” Cianfrani, were both convicted of corruption and served time in federal prison.

Farnese did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This is a developing story. Check back for more.

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The Indictment