- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 24, 2017

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Prosecutors and defense attorneys are clashing over whether a state senator’s eight-minute phone call to a Democratic Party ward committeewoman was a bribe or just an elected official helping out a constituent.

Prosecutors allege that Democratic Sen. Larry Farnese used $6,000 in campaign money to bribe the committeewoman in 2011 to help his successful candidacy to be become Philadelphia’s 8th Ward leader.

“When you are a ward leader, you are in a position to make some powerful friends. Senator Farnese wanted to be a ward leader very, very badly,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis told jurors Tuesday during opening arguments in Farnese’s trial on mail fraud, wire fraud and other charges.

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Farnese’s lawyers say the payment, which the committeewoman used for her daughter’s college study abroad program, wasn’t illegal. Defense attorney Mark Sheppard called it “a public figure helping a constituent.”

Farnese’s defense is really, really simple: This was not a bribe. It was never intended to be a bribe. There was never any discussion of it being a bribe,” Sheppard said.

Farnese has been in office since 2009. The two men who held the seat before Farnese went to prison for corruption.

Farnese said in a Facebook post the evening before the proceeding that the charges against him had nothing to do with his actions as a senator.

“There’s no allegation that government funds were misused in any way,” he wrote. “I didn’t give anyone a job or get someone a grant they didn’t deserve, and I didn’t sell my office. … I hope, and I expect, that I will be fully exonerated because I believe that I did nothing wrong.”

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