I'D LIKE TO declare today "Thank a Federal Prosecutor Day."
Specifically, I'm thinking of assistant U.S. attorneys Robert Zauzmer and John Pease. Even if you don't know their names, you know the work of the team they led in 2009, when they tried to bring Vince Fumo to justice for abusing the public trust.
Fumo's trial ran five grueling months and no doubt would have stretched longer had our former state senator not scrubbed his computer hard drives before the feds could learn the full breadth of his scheme to use Other People's Money for personal use.
Still, Zauzmer and Pease figured that their work was done when a jury found Fumo guilty on 137 counts of corruption and fraud, a verdict that should've netted him a 21-to-27-year prison term.
After all, former city Treasurer Corey Kemp had recently gotten 10 years in a lockup for selling his influence in exchange for piddling crap like Super Bowl tickets and a backyard deck.
Surely Fumo's looting a nonprofit, using his government staff as personal serfs, financing his homes with taxpayer money and then lying to feds about all of it would earn prison time at least as serious as Kemp's.
Instead, Judge Ronald Buckwalter gave Fumo just 55 months, a bonbon so far outside federal sentencing guidelines that it shocked the senses.
Buckwalter cited as a mitigating factor Fumo's years of public service - as if Fumo should be lauded for doing the damn job that voters had elected him to do. The judge was also wowed by 300 letters of support from Fumo's heavy-hitting pals, asking for compassionate sentencing for the man who had - surprise, surprise - helped so many of them prosper politically.
God, it was depressing.
At that point, I don't think anyone would've blamed Zauzmer and Pease for throwing up their hands and accepting 55 months as the best they'd get for a Teflon pol who had managed, once again, to slide easy.
And in this corrupt city, it's not like there's a shortage of rotten fish that need frying on a federal stovetop.
But Zauzmer and Pease, thank their righteous hearts, wouldn't let it go. They sought permission from then-U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan to appeal Fumo's sentence. Permission is rarely granted, since trial judges are given wide berth at sentencing.
But Kagan, in a parting gift before her appointment last year to the U.S. Supreme Court, agreed, and the prosecutors got to work - yet again - in their attempt to bring Fumo to meaningful justice.
And that's how they wound up in U.S. Appeals Court yesterday, before a three-judge panel.
Zauzmer's arguments were so clear-cut, and the rebuttal by Fumo attorney Samuel Buffone often so tortured, that judges Leonard Garth and Julio Fuentes several times rubbed their brows in apparent confusion.
Which makes me hope that maybe - maybe - they will agree that Buckwalter committed significant "procedural errors" when he gifted Fumo with a prison term so brief, it's like a vacation. If so, Fumo could be resentenced.
That doesn't guarantee a longer sentence, especially if Buckwalter himself does the resentencing. Because, gee, what are the odds he'll reverse himself?
That's why we have to start writing letters to Buckwalter now, expressing in no uncertain terms just how wrong it was that Fumo used his office like a personal ATM. That he wronged those who trusted him with their votes to represent them with dignity, honesty and character.
Buckwalter was swayed before by the written word. He may be swayed again, this time by people who gained nothing personally by associating with Fumo.
It could help. And it would be the best way to thank Zauzmer and Pease for never giving up.
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