HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Federal prosecutors are accusing a Pennsylvania state senator of using campaign money to bribe a ward official by paying for her daughter's college study abroad.
Democratic Sen. Larry Farnese of Philadelphia was charged Tuesday with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and violations of the Travel Act.
Prosecutors say he secured support for his candidacy in a ward election by paying $6,000 toward the study program.
The ward official, Ellen Chapman, also was charged. The election concerned Farnese's 2011 candidacy to lead Philadelphia's eighth ward.
Farnese was first elected to the Senate in 2008.
The following is a statement from his attorney, Mark B. Sheppard, of Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads, LLP:
"Larry Farnese is 100 percent innocent of these novel charges and expects to be fully exonerated. There is no allegation that Senator 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."
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