Even the corrupt need a champion.
In Pennsylvania, crooked politicians have theirs in former Gov. Ed Rendell. Much like Will Rogers never met a man he didn’t like, Rendell never met a dirty pol he couldn’t defend.
Rendell habitually commends those about to be convicted of, or plead guilty to, criminal charges. He did it again with Chakah Fattah. After recently testifying at the veteran Philadelphia congressman’s trial on corruption charges, Rendell expressed disgust over the serial persecution of politicians with hearts of gold and fingers that filch.
“Federal prosecutors don’t understand the political process,” he griped. “They think everything is done for ulterior motives. They’re very cynical. We’re not all bad. We’re not all evil.”
Fattah, convicted Tuesday on racketeering, money laundering, fraud and 20 other charges, certainly is bad.
You’d think Rendell, a former Philadelphia district attorney, would refrain from statements that make prosecutors look bad and ultimately could make him look foolish. But he’s a serial defender of friends, even ones with landfill-sized mounds of evidence against them.
In 2012, he came to the aid of former Senate Majority Leader Robert Mellow, another heartbreaking victim of federal prosecutors who can’t comprehend the political process.
That year, Mellow pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge related to using staff members to do political work, and filing a false tax return. Rendell immediately wrote a letter to the judge essentially drawing parallels between the crooked pol and the late Mother Teresa.
“I have seen him reduced to tears on occasion by (constituent) plights and go to great lengths to alleviate them,” he wrote. “That’s a side of Bob Mellow that not many people know.”
Despite Rendell’s pleas for leniency, Mellow got to know the four sides of a federal prison cell.
Also in 2012, Rendell was a character witness for former state representative and onetime state Revenue Secretary Stephen Stetler, charged with using state employees to perform political campaign work.
Rendell told the court that Stetler’s reputation was “as good as anyone ever hoped to have.” If the assessment was accurate, Stetler’s reputation wasn’t tarnished much by his subsequent prison sentence.
Three years earlier, Rendell wrote this about state Rep. Vince Fumo: “He worked tirelessly to help and protect the poorest and most vulnerable citizens of Philadelphia.”
Rendell basically asked a judge to ignore Fumo’s conviction on a staggering 137 corruption counts and focus on more important matters, such as the corrupt lawmaker’s sense of social responsibility.
See a pattern here?
Rendell obviously isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Too bad he often does so on behalf of people not worth the speech.
He should learn the difference between being a man of conviction and being a man facing one.
Eric Heyl is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7857 or [email protected].