Christopher Wright, Ravi Chawla and Andy Teitelman are waiting to see if the U.S. Attorney’s Office decides to retry them, now that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out their convictions.
Wright, Chawla and Teitelman were convicted by a jury in February 2009 on corruption charges and sentenced to federal prison, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in June 2010 that the honest services fraud law was vague as it pertains to failure to report a conflict of interest and, instead, should be applied only in cases of bribery and kickbacks.
The federal government has used the honest services fraud law to win convictions against government officials and corporate executives. Former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling challenged the law in court.
The three men have been out on bail since the ruling.
U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno sentenced Wright, former chief of staff to recently retired City Councilman Jack Kelly, to four years in prison. Chawla, a wealthy real estate developer and major donor to Kelly’s campaign, received a 30-month sentence. Teitelman, Kelly’s campaign treasurer who also was Chawla’s business attorney, was sentenced to 24 months.
Kelly was not implicated in the case. He taped a telephone conversation with Wright and a meeting with Chawla and testified at trial for the prosecution.
Hardeep Chawla, Ravi’s brother, was acquitted at the trial.
The four were indicted in 2008 in a case that centered around Wright’s free use of an apartment and parking space on Delancey Street in Rittenhouse Square for 14 months, pro bono legal advice from his good friend Teitelman and a $1,000 payment.
Prosecutors asserted that Wright accepted the perks in exchange for helping the Chawlas’ development projects.
However, defense attorneys argued that the apartment, money and legal advice were given out of friendship and concern, since Wright was facing problems related to money, drinking, a divorce, child custody fight and possible foreclosure of his Millbrook Road home.
Last week’s ruling follows a Sept. 21, 2011 hearing in front of a three-judge panel.
The panel determined that the Supreme Court ruling undermined the convictions. Specifically, it wrote that the jury instructions on the honest services fraud law were incorrect, based on the high court ruling.
At this point, the U.S. Attorney’s Office could retry the case, work with defense attorneys on a plea bargain or, less likely, dismiss the charges. ••