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Fumo: Guilty on all counts

Ex-lawmaker faces 10 years or more

Former Pennsylvania State Sen. Vincent Fumo returns to the U.S Courthouse in Philadelphia shortly before his conviction on all counts in his corruption trial. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/ Staff Photographer)
Former Pennsylvania State Sen. Vincent Fumo returns to the U.S Courthouse in Philadelphia shortly before his conviction on all counts in his corruption trial. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/ Staff Photographer)Read more

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

The grand-jury transcript takes up nearly 7,000 pages. The trial took 22 weeks and the testimony of 107 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 Fumo, 65, guilty on all 137 counts of conspiracy, fraud, tax offenses and obstruction of justice. It found his codefendant, Ruth Arnao, 52, a close Fumo friend and former aide, guilty on all 45 counts she faced.

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

At a hearing Thursday, prosecutors said, they will also demand 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.

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," Fumo said in his sole comment as he and a phalanx of supporters pushed their way to a waiting van outside the federal courthouse.

His lawyers promised post-conviction motions and appeals.

In court, Fumo, who had a heart attack last year, remained still as the verdict was read. His ashen face seemed to grow paler by the minute.

Afterward, he turned and hugged his youngest daughter, Allie, a college freshman whose eyes were rimmed with red. His concern seemed to be for her, not himself.

U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter set bail at $2 million, rejecting a prosecution request that Fumo be immediately locked up as flight risk. The judge permitted 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.

Fumo was also told he must check in with court presentence officials four times a week, one of those times in person. He was also forbidden to leave the nine-county federal Eastern District without permission, cutting him off from access to the farm or his beach-block home in Margate, N.J.

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

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

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

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

In interviews, Pease and Zauzmer, who, in effect, ran the table in the case, saluted the outcome.

"This verdict shows that nobody is above the law," Pease said. "No matter how powerful and rich you are, you are going to be held accountable."

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

Former U.S. Attorney Patrick L. Meehan, who made the ultimate decision to indict Fumo in 2007, said in a statement that he hoped the verdict would encourage "a new commitment of transparency, honesty, and ethics" from elected officials. Meehan, a Republican, is seen as a possible candidate for governor next year.

Yesterday morning's verdict came after a marathon trial in which the two prosecutors derided 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 Arnao of skimming benefits from Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, a South Philadelphia nonprofit whose executive director was Arnao.

The jury also found that Fumo unlawfully took thousands of dollars in free yacht cruises from the Independence Seaport Museum, where he was a board member. On one cruise, prosecutors said, Arnao selected the menu for a French meal for 14 guests costing $2,500. The museum paid the bill.

Finally, the jury convicted Fumo and Arnao of attempting to stage a cover-up, presiding over a campaign to expunge e-mail as the FBI zeroed in.

Dennis J. Cogan, Fumo's lawyer, promised an appeal. The defense team said that one key issue would be Buckwalter's decision to keep juror Eric Wuest on the panel even though Wuest had admitted posting brief online messages about the trial on Facebook and Twitter.

In a motion filed Sunday, the defense asked that Wuest, 35, a benefits manager at a law firm, be removed and suggested that the judge consider ordering a mistrial.

But Buckwalter rejected the matter as a tempest in a teapot. In a 75-minute closed-door hearing yesterday before the jury delivered its verdict, the judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers questioned Wuest. He told them his electronic postings had been innocent and vague.

According to a tape made public after the hearing, Wuest told the judge that his messages never expressed an opinion about the case. He never got any outside feedback, either, he said.

At the close of the trial, the defense, in the words of Arnao's lawyer, Edwin J. Jacobs, blasted the case "an overblown and overarching prosecution that should never have gotten this far."

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

But Fumo said he was entitled to this and more because he had pressured Peco Energy Co. 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 or help in his personal life.

As for the cover-up charges, Fumo said he only acted after he got legal advice from two lawyers that it was all right to delete the e-mails. But the lawyers, including Fumo mentor-turned-foe Richard A. Sprague, took the stand and denied that.

In their news conference, the jurors said that even if Fumo had gotten advice from the lawyers, he never briefed them fully about what he was up to with the document deletions. This, the jury said, rendered his defense moot.

A master politician

Fumo never ran for Philadelphia mayor, but as a master of inside politics, he was long one of the most powerful Democrats in the city and in Harrisburg. His smarts, his take-no-prisoners tactics and his crack staff put him at the front of countless issues, from guns to gambling.

His defense lawyers told the jurors that Fumo had brought $8 billion in state money to the region during his political career, though prosecutors dismissed that as puffery.

As an Democratic boss, Fumo had a say in patronage across Pennsylvania. His power was extended by the minions he placed in executive boards ranging from the Delaware River Port Authority to the Board of City Trusts.

Off the job, the twice-divorced Fumo enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle. Jurors heard about his mansion's shooting gallery and heated sidewalks, his butler, his rooftop weather station in Florida, his shared ownership of a $4 million jet, and his multimillionaire friend who gave him $1 million in cash and a $500,000 power boat.

He was painted, too, as a kind of Imelda Marcos of tools, acquiring them by the hundreds, often in duplicate, but rarely using them.

While Fumo complained in e-mails that money was tight, he was a wealthy man. On top of his Senate salary, Fumo was paid almost $1 million to steer business to the Philadelphia law firm of Dilworth Paxson.

And in 2007, Fumo got $16 million when he sold the bank, PSB Bancorp, founded by his grandfather.

Fumo now follows his father in being convicted on federal charges. His father, Vincent E. Fumo, ran the bank until he pleaded guilty in 1976 to bank fraud and was placed on probation. He died in 1991.

The younger Fumo has twice before faced criminal charges.

In 1973, District Attorney Arlen Specter, a Republican, charged Fumo with election fraud. The following year, however, a new, and Democratic, D.A. withdrew the charges.

In 1980, two years after he was elected to the Senate to fill a seat once held by Henry "Buddy" Cianfrani (a seat vacated when Cianfrani was convicted on corruption charges), Fumo faced federal charges involved the hiring of no-show state workers. A federal jury convicted him, but the judge tossed the verdict on a technicality.

Digging into 'Fumo World'

Fumo's sweeping indictment in February 2007 climaxed a four-year FBI investigation in which agents Vicki Humphreys and Kathleen T. McAfee poked into virtually ever corner of what even their quarry's friends called "Fumo World."

At first, the FBI and federal prosecutors focused on Fumo's deal with Peco, as well as similar pressure he put on Verizon Communications.

Ultimately, the government concluded that Fumo's dealings with the two companies were too murky to warrant an extortion charge.

Instead, the federal prosecutors, the FBI, and the IRS dug into his use of Senate staff and consultants and his ties to Citizens' Alliance.

Prosecutors opened the trial with a "shock and awe" barrage of sorts - calling Fumo's estranged son-in-law, his state-paid private eye, the ex-girlfriend whom the detective tailed, and Fumo's top political consultant.

Despite the feverish effort to delete Fumo's e-mails, the FBI ended up gathering hundreds, taking custody of a cache kept by Fumo's disaffected son-in-law and others from the ex-girlfriend's computer.

And some of the evidence was devastating.

For example, in a detailed 2002 memo obtained by the FBI, aide Arnao, long one of Fumo's closest friends, instructed two other staffers that their duties included writing Fumo's personal checks, overseeing his campaign fund, and other unofficial work.

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

He also said that Fumo kept trying to hide his tracks after The Inquirer began a series of investigative pieces Nov. 16, 2003, that examined Citizens' Alliance and much else about Fumo's power.

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

For Fumo, the trial was excruciating on many levels.

Week after week, witnesses and prosecutors described him as a crook, a bully, a liar, an inadequate father, a shopaholic, even a lousy tipper.

His fractured family life was put on voyeuristic display. When his son-in-law, Christian Marrone, took the stand as a prosecution witness, Fumo's daughter, Nicole, sat in the audience to support her husband. She and her father never spoke.

She was not in the courtroom yesterday. In addition to daughter Allie, his only son, Vincent, was present yesterday. He was a steady attendee of the trial.

Jurors learned that Fumo was so vindictive when a girlfriend, Dorothy Egrie, dumped him in 2002 that he had Wallace repeatedly tail her with an eye toward getting her arrested for drunken driving.

Egrie testified as a prosecution witness. She was the one who fleshed out the iconic acronym OPM, saying Fumo would often boast of spending "other people's money" when they went out.

In one of the most dramatic moments of the trial, the former chief executive of Verizon, Daniel Whelan, testified that Fumo, emboldened by his success with Peco, had demanded that Verizon pony up $50 million or more.

Verizon refused. Whelan said he balked at Fumo's demands that it invest $10 million in Fumo's bank and give $2.5 million in legal work to Dilworth Paxson.

In testimony that seemed to tell much about the environment in which Fumo flourished, Whelan told jurors that he sought advice about Fumo's demands from two top Philadelphia lawyers. The lawyers, David L. Cohen and Arthur Makadon, told him to "work it out" with Fumo.

When the news first broke about Peco's $17 million donation to Citizens' Alliance, 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," Fumo said in an interview on Jan. 29, 2004.

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

After reviewing all those buys with Citizens' Alliance's work crew supervisor, the FBI leveled its conclusion: The charity had spent up to $133,000 buying tools and other consumer goods for Fumo. The goodies included 19 Oreck vacuums.

Confronted with this analysis, Fumo admitted on the stand that he received $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 Fumo's legislative office in South Philadelphia, $61,000 in farm equipment, money for a secret lawsuit against a Republican enemy, and more.

On the stand, Fumo appeared to have no choice but to admit much. Under a tough cross-examination from 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, Fumo said, its spending on polls and the like was a win for him and the organization. If he flourished, 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.

"Greed will get you," said one juror, Antoinette Randell. "OPM will get you."

Said juror Kimm Guckin: "The rules are made for everybody. And he helped make the rules."