Eight officials and friends of the high-voltage Electricians Local 98 are charged with 116 counts of corruption, fraud, embezzlement, conspiracy, and theft of services. What happens now will be life-changing for them no matter the outcome.
When you’re facing so many federal charges, who better to draw a map of what comes next than former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo? He’s been there, done that.
At just about the same time Local 98 leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, arguably the most powerful labor leader in Pennsylvania, was being arraigned on Friday, I sat down with Fumo, once the most powerful politician in Pennsylvania.
We went for lunch in South Philly at Dante & Luigi’s, best known for perciatelli genovese and as where mobster Nicky Scarfo Jr. was shot in a 1989 botched mob hit by a gunman in a Batman mask.
Fumo’s taking the Rams on Sunday. And the prosecution against the accused.
“The odds of winning are one in 100,” he says, which is why 96 percent of defendants in federal cases take plea bargains.
Of the 4 percent who don’t take a deal, 80 percent lose, because the rules favor the prosecution, he says.
Fumo was one of those who didn’t. Charged more than a decade ago with 137 counts that were similar to the corruption charges brought against the Local 98 Eight, he rejected a plea bargain, and in 2009, he was convicted and then served 48 months in the federal prison in Ashland, Ky.
In Fumo’s case, the mind-sticking detail was him glomming power tools and Oreck vacuum cleaners. With Dougherty, it is allegedly baby wipes and Cap’n Crunch.
“In retrospect, I probably should have pled,” he says as he takes a bite of stuffed calamari. "It would have been a lot cheaper.”
With restitution, fines, lawyers, and losing his pension, he estimates his bravado cost him $10 million. His crimes were barely crimes, says the man once nicknamed “the Vince of Darkness.”
The jury hammered him on all 137 counts. Fumo thinks the same might happen this time around.
“Usually with an indictment that long, the jury gets confused, they get overwhelmed,” he says. “The media coverage continues, it’s hard for them to distinguish one from the other.”
Fumo himself once referred to his jury as “dumb.”
Which wasn’t smart.
After reading the Dougherty indictment, Fumo says he doesn’t think the government will try hard to flip any of the defendants. “You can tell most of their evidence was gotten through wiretap,” he says, and when you have that, “they already got you.”
If the accused are not yet feeling it — you suffer shock in the early days — “their mental health will be stressed because, no matter how optimistic you are, it’s human to go to the worst-case scenario,” Fumo says.
Speaking of worst-case scenario, let’s say they are convicted.
What happens next?
Fumo served his time in a camp, inside an A-frame cinder-block building without bars. Two men get bunks in a 9-by-9-foot cubicle that doesn’t have a locked door. There are microwaves, an ice machine, a communal bathroom, and a shower.
The worst part of prison life was the strip searches. Most of the corrections officers won’t embarrass you, Fumo says, but “the others can be a pain in the ass.”
He didn’t get a lot of visitors, he says, because it was a 12-hour drive from Philadelphia. But some do come, and “you find out who your friends are.”
To pass the time, mostly he read novels, something he never had time for before. “I seldom watched television,” he says. He had a radio, but in his location in Kentucky, there were only two choices — NPR and country music. “I got really sick of country music,” he says with a laugh.
Before going away, he had read Going to Jail? by Jimmy Tayoun, another South Philly pol who wound up in Club Fed.
Fumo recommends it to the Local 98 Eight.