It may not surprise you to hear there are literally dozens of members of Congress who have been convicted of crimes, either while in office or after.
Some have paid fines, or served probation, or resigned from their jobs. But among those who have gone to prison, most have been sentenced to two or three years. Very few have received a sentence as long as the one former representative Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) just received: A Pennsylvania judge sentenced him Monday to 10 years in prison after he was convicted in June of a slew of bribery and federal corruption charges related to an illegal $1 million loan he took out for a failed 2007 mayoral run. (Fattah defiantly fought the charges but subsequently became the first 2016 incumbent member of Congress to lose his primary and resigned days after jurors convicted him.)
It's the second-longest prison sentence for someone who served in Congress, at least that we're aware of. Here are some other notable lengthy prison sentences for congresspeople — and, bonus!: the longest prison sentences for any U.S. politician.
Members of Congress with the longest prison sentences
13 years: We believe the only other member of Congress to be sentenced to more time in prison than Fattah is former congressman William Jefferson.
The Louisiana Democrat was sentenced to 13 years in 2009 for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes — you might recall prosecutors claiming officials found $90,000 of bribe money stuffed in his freezer. Jefferson engaged in “the most extensive and pervasive pattern of corruption in the history of Congress,” federal prosecutors said at the time.
8 years: In 2005, former Republican representative Duke Cunningham (Calif.) was sentenced to more than eight years in prison on charges related to the Cunningham Scandal, where little-known defense contractors paid bribes (both in the form of cash and even prostitutes) to members of Congress and administration officials to secure federal contracts worth tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars.
Cunningham pleaded guilty to taking more than $2 million in bribes.
8 years: In 2002, former Democratic representative James Traficant Jr. (Ohio) was sentenced to eight years in prison after he was found guilty of accepting bribes and kickbacks from staff members for political favors. A colorful character insisting on doing things his own way, he defended himself at trial. He ended up being convicted on 10 felony counts, including bribery and racketeering. (He was released in 2009, at 68, after serving seven years. He died in 2014 in a tractor accident at his farm.)
Even though being convicted of a crime robs you of your main job as a member of Congress — to vote — Traficant refused to step down and became only the second lawmaker since the Civil War to be expelled by his colleagues. “Am I scared to death? No,” a defiant Traficant said at the time. “I will go to jail before I resign and admit to something I did not do.”
That ended up happening: He ran as an independent candidate from prison, another anomaly for members of Congress.
Traficant lost, and his former aide, Tim Ryan, won the election to replace him — yes, the Ryan who just challenged House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the top Democratic leadership spot.)
Longest prison sentences for any politician
Members of Congress have nothing on the list of mayors, governors and state lawmakers that make up some of the longest prison sentences of any politician. I put together this list in May when the former speaker of New York's Assembly, Sheldon Silver (D), was sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of money laundering, fraud and graft. Here are some other notable lengthy sentences:
28 years: Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (D) is serving a 28-year sentence after he was convicted in 2013 for a dizzying array of corruption-related crimes, including racketeering, extortion and bribery. Prosecutors said he robbed Detroit of millions when it was at its most desperate. In 2015 he tried — and failed — to get the conviction overturned. At the time of his sentencing, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said it was “equal to the longest sentence” for corruption ever handed down for an elected official.
28 years: Mark Ciavarella (D) was one of two northeastern Pennsylvania county judges convicted of taking millions from a juvenile detention center to put children in their center, even for petty crimes like stealing a CD from Walmart. The scandal broke open in 2009 and was dubbed “Kids for Cash,” and there's a documentary about it.
Ciavarella originally agreed to a prison sentence of seven years, but according to Scranton, Pa.'s ABC affiliate, WNEP, he then did a TV interview where he denied all of it. “I would never do anything to hurt a child,” he said. The day afterward, a federal judge rejected Ciavarella's guilty plea, saying he didn't sound like he was admitting guilt at all. Ciavarella went to trial and ended up with 28 years in prison.
19 years: Rita Crundwell had been a small-town official in Dixon, Ill., for 29 years when in 2012, prosecutors accused her of what they said was the largest municipal fraud in American history. They said she stole some $53.7 million from the city to support her championship horse-breeding habit. She got 19½ years in prison for the scheme, and as of 2015, according to the Los Angeles Times, federal officials are still auctioning off the horse-breeding empire — including very valuable frozen horse semen — that she built up with taxpayer money.
17 years: The other Pennsylvania county judge in the Kids for Cash case, Michael Conahan (D), got 17½ years.
15 years: In 2009, former Birmingham mayor Larry Langford (D) had to answer for crimes past when a federal jury convicted him of 60 counts of fraud, money-laundering and bribery when he was head of the Jefferson County Commission. He was accused of accepting cash and high-end jewelry and clothes from an investment banker to steer public business the banker's way. In 2010, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
14 years: The former Democratic governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, is one of the highest-ranking politicians on this list. In 2011, he was sentenced to 14 years on corruption-related charges including trying to sell President Obama's open Senate seat for cash or political favors.
14 years: William Boyland, a former New York Democratic assemblyman from a political Brooklyn family, was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2015 for asking for bribes from undercover agents — days after being acquitted of separate bribery charges — and for filing fake expenses that cost taxpayers an extra $71,000.