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Lawyers make final pitches to jurors in Farnese’s federal fraud trial

January 30, 2017

The Philadelphia Inquirer
By Jeremy Roebuck

In their final pitch to the jury, prosecutors in Larry Farnese’s federal fraud trial painted the state senator as so desperate five years ago to become leader of the city’s Eighth Democratic Ward that he was willing to buy the vote of a committeewoman to do it.

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But defense lawyers, in their final remarks, called prosecutors desperate, too – so desperate to score a conviction that they twisted a perfectly legal act of constituent service into a nefarious tale of corruption.

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“This is not the way criminals act,” Farnese lawyer Mark Sheppard told the jury, referring to the scores of emails, campaign-finance filings, and other paperwork documenting the senator’s $6,000 contribution to the tuition owed by Chapman’s daughter. “Criminals don’t file public records,” he said. “Criminals don’t keep the emails that the government now alleges are evidence of an illicit agreement. Criminals don’t pay bribes with checks.”

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The senator’s own lawyers also emphasized that point with their final witness Monday – Center City lawyer Lawrence Tabas, an expert in Pennsylvania election law. He testified that state campaign-finance statutes allow candidates to spend their money on just about anything that might help influence an election.

But in Farnese’s case, Sheppard argued in his closing remarks, he didn’t even need Chapman’s support. Several committee members that testified at the trial described Farnese as a clear front-runner in the ward leader race from the beginning.

If Farnese was trying to swing the election through bribery, Sheppard asked, why would he pay off only one out of the more than 50 voters he needed to win?

“This was not a bribe,” he said. “This was Sen. Farnese doing what he does best – helping others.”

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Farnese is represented by Montgomery McCracken partner Mark B. Sheppard.