Fumo, powerhouse of Pa. Dems, guilty

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

The FBI pursued him for four years. Its agents interviewed more than 350 people and compiled documents that filled 240 boxes.

The trial took 22 weeks and 102 witnesses.

Yesterday, a jury of 10 women and two men wrote the finish. They found Vincent J. Fumo to be a corrupt politician who abused his power to enrich himself.

Twice before, the former state senator and Democratic power had beaten criminal charges. But there was no escaping yesterday as jury forewoman Karen White delivered guilty verdict after guilty verdict, her words falling for 13 long minutes like dirt into a grave.

The jury found Mr. Fumo, 65, guilty on all 137 counts of conspiracy, fraud, tax offenses and obstruction of justice. It found his co-defendant, Ruth Arnao, 52, a close friend and former aide, guilty on all 45 counts she faced.

Federal prosecutors said they will seek a prison term of more than 10 years for the disgraced Mr. Fumo. Ms. Arnao faces a prison term of less than 10 years. No sentencing date has been set.

At a hearing Thursday, prosecutors also will demand that he pay back the $4 million they say he skimmed and stole from his victims, the State Senate, a Philadelphia museum and a South Philadelphia community-improvement organization.

Mr. Fumo, a feared and admired power in Philadelphia and Harrisburg politics for decades, will now likely lose his $101,000 yearly state pension and his law license, his lawyer said in court yesterday.

"I'm heartbroken," Mr. Fumo said. His lawyers promised post-conviction motions and appeals.

U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter set bail at $2 million, rejecting a prosecution request that Mr. Fumo be immediately locked up as a flight risk. The judge permitted Mr. Fumo to post the money by signing a form giving the government the right, should he run, to seize his 27-room mansion in Spring Garden, his farm outside Harrisburg and his homes at the Jersey shore and in Florida.

In a somewhat unusual news conference after its verdict, the jury made their five full days of deliberation sound relatively easy: the evidence, the jurors said, was simply overwhelming.

Mr. Fumo, they said, hurt himself when he took the stand and at one point testified that his only obligation as a legislator was to go to Harrisburg and vote.

"That sunk him," said Ms. White, the jury forewoman, a retired school psychologist.

Echoing the case presented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John J. Pease and Robert A. Zauzmer, the jurors described Mr. Fumo as so greedy that he blew past ethical rules and the regulations of the State Senate.

Mr. Zauzmer said the verdict should send "a very powerful and resounding message to public officials" to steer well clear of corruption.

Yesterday morning's verdict came after a marathon trial in which the two prosecutors derided Mr. Fumo as an arrogant "glutton" who turned Senate aides and consultants into servants and political operatives.

The jury found this to be so. It also convicted him and Ms. Arnao of skimming benefits from Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, a South Philadelphia nonprofit whose executive director was Ms. Arnao.

The jury also found that Mr. Fumo unlawfully took thousands of dollars in free yacht cruises from the Independence Seaport Museum, where he was a board member.

Finally, the jury convicted Mr. Fumo and Ms. Arnao of attempting to stage a coverup, presiding over a campaign to expunge almost all of his e-mail as the FBI zeroed in on him.

Reaction to the guilty-on-all-counts verdict poured in swiftly as former colleagues to enemies absorbed the news that the man once called in-Vinceable is now facing years in prison.

"I am devastated, I am devastated," Rosanne Pauciello, a former top Senate aide whom Mr. Fumo often described as his "sister" said in a phone interview shortly after the verdict was announced.

Others had little sympathy.

"His perverted view of the way government should work for him and not him for government eventually caught up with him," said former Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, who had several high-profile run-ins with Mr. Fumo during decades together in the Senate. "Vince has dodged so many bullets over the years, but this one finally got him right between the eyes."

After years of denials, Mr. Fumo took the stand and acknowledged getting $63,000 in tools and consumer goods from Citizens' Alliance.

But Mr. Fumo said he was entitled to this and more because he had pressured Peco Energy to give millions to the nonprofit and had labored as its unofficial director.

He said the free vacation cruises were lawful because they were approved by the head of the Independence Seaport Museum.

He portrayed his Senate staff as a loyal crew who always put in a full day for the taxpayers before volunteering to campaign for him and help him in his personal life.

On top of his Senate salary, Mr. Fumo was paid almost $1 million to steer business to the Philadelphia law firm of Dilworth Paxson.

Mr. Fumo's sweeping indictment in February 2007 climaxed a four-year FBI investigation in which agents poked into virtually every corner of what even his friends called "Fumoworld."

In his closing, Mr. Zauzmer mocked Mr. Fumo as a schemer who pulled off "a complete ripoff' of Citizens" Alliance and did much the same to the Senate.

He also said that Mr. Fumo kept trying to hide his tracks after The Inquirer began a series of investigative pieces in November 2003 that examined Citizens' Alliance and Mr. Fumo's power.

"It only stopped for one reason. It only stopped for the same reason that everything else stops in this case," Mr. Zauzmer told jurors. "The publicity starts in The Philadelphia Inquirer in November 2003 and that was the end of the scheme."

When the scandal first broke about Peco's $17 million donation to Citizens' Alliance, Mr. Fumo insisted he had little to do with the nonprofit beyond raising money for it.

"I don't get any money from it, I don't get any benefits from it," Mr. Fumo said in an interview on Jan. 29, 2004.

What Mr. Fumo apparently hadn't counted on was that the FBI would begin digging into the spending of the nonprofit, compiling a master database using store receipt and credit card bills.

After reviewing all those buys with Citizens' Alliance's workcrew supervisor, the FBI leveled its conclusion: The charity had spent up to $133,000 buying tools and other consumer goods for Mr. Fumo.

Confronted with this analysis, Mr. Fumo admitted on the stand that he received the $63,000 in goods.

The government contended that was just part of his skim from Citizens' Alliance. Prosecutors said he billed it for $250,000 in political polls; $104,000 to lavishly upgrade Mr. Fumo's legislative office in South Philadelphia; $61,000 farm equipment; money for a secret lawsuit against a Republican enemy and more.

On the stand, Mr. Fumo appeared to have no choice but to admit much. Under a tough cross-examination from Mr. Pease, he conceded, for example, that he had stepped up his computer security once The Inquirer broke the news that he was under FBI investigation.

As for the nonprofit, Mr. Fumo said its spending on polls and the like was a win for him and the organization. If he flourished, Mr. Fumo told jurors, so did Citizens' Alliance.

"In the end," he said, "it all revolves around whether I could get more political power to carry out my agenda."

The jury rejected all that.


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?