Rep. Raymond F. Lederer (D-Pa.) was indicted yesterday on bribery and racketeering charges for allegedly taking $50,000 in cash from undercover FBI agents last September at a New York hotel.
He is the second Philadelphia congressman to be indicted in the FBI's so-called Abscam undercover investigation. Rep. Michael O. Myers (d-Pa.) was indicted Tuesday.
The Lederer indictment by a grand jury in Brooklyn is similar to the one against Myers, even including the same co-defendants -- Mayor Angelo Errichetti of Camden, N.J.; Louis C. Johanson, a member of Philadelphia's city council, and his law partner, Howard L. Criden.
Two other Philadelphia councilmen were indicted last week, and the series of charges has left the Democratic Party in Philadelphia reeling.
City Democratic Chairman David Glancey and Mayor Bill Green labeled Lederer and Myers "unelectable" in February when details of their alleged participation in Abscam leaked to the press. But in April, both men won their primary elections for renomination.
Joe Certaine, Clancey's deputy, said yesterday that "we knew this was going to happen and tried to warn people. What can we do now but say 'We told you so.'?"
"I guess people don't mind," he said, "that we might have to hold our congressional delegation and councilmanic meetings in Allenwood" -- a federal prison.
Grand juries in Washington and Brooklyn have been considering evidence against five other House members and one U.S. senator named in the Abscam stories. Decisions on indictments in some of those cases are expected in the next few weeks.
According to yesterday's indictment, Lederer -- like Myers before him -- was introduced to the FBI agents by Errichetti, who then accompanied the congressman to the Sept. 11 meeting at the Hilton Inn near Kennedy Airport in New York. It was there that Lederer took the $50,000 cash in return for promises of his help in getting Middle Eastern businessmen into the country, the grand jury alleged.
The indictment said Lederer, like Myers, divided the money with the other defendants. Next day, Sept. 12, Criden gave his law partner Ellis Cook money for Lederer to be kept in a safe deposit box at a Philadelphia savings and loan association, it is alleged. Cook was an unindicted co-conspirator in the Myers indictment and is apparently cooperating with federal authorities.
On Sept. 20, Cook was told to remove $500 from the safe box for Lederer and a week later withdrew $4,500 more for the congressman, according to the charges.
All four defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit bribery with interstate travel to aid racketeering. Lederer was charged with bribery and receiving an illegal gratuity and the three other men were charged with aiding him in the same offenses.
Lederer, 41, has proclaimed his innocence throughout. He said in a statement yesterday that it was "unfortunate that the government has seen fit to bring an indictment." But he said he believed in the American system of justice and "continue to believe that I will be vindicated."
Richard BenVeniste, Criden's attorney, said he wasn't surprised by the three indictments against his client, because he refuses to cooperate as a government witness against members of Congress.
In a related development yesterday, the FBI turned over to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct information on more than five House members who were approached by middlemen but who avoided involvement in the Abscam case.
Rep. Charles E. Bennett (D-Fla.), the committee chairman, said, "It is very doubtful that any of them violated any law or any rule of the House." He did not name the members but they are believed to be those who rejected approaches by some of the middlemen who introduced public officials to the undercover agents.