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Fumo sentenced to 55 months in prison

Former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo was sentenced yesterday to four years and seven months in prison - a punishment that prosecutors denounced as too lenient, given his sweeping corruption conviction.

His face a reflection of the stress he has been under, former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo leaving the federal courthouse in Center City yesterday. He’d asked the judge for “compassion and mercy” during his sentencing. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)
His face a reflection of the stress he has been under, former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo leaving the federal courthouse in Center City yesterday. He’d asked the judge for “compassion and mercy” during his sentencing. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)Read more

Former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo was sentenced yesterday to four years and seven months in prison - a punishment that prosecutors denounced as too lenient, given his sweeping corruption conviction.

As Fumo accepted hugs from well-wishers, his defense team was low-key about what was clearly a good day for their client, all things considered. Attorney Peter Goldberger later summed matters up drily, saying, "It could have been worse."

Prosecutors said they were considering appealing the sentence by U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter, though veteran lawyers said the odds of their succeeding were long.

"The government is disappointed by the sentence," said Acting U.S. Attorney Michael L. Levy. "We don't think it sends a strong enough message."

Prosecutors had urged Buckwalter to send Fumo away for at least 15 years. In an emotionally raw sentencing hearing yesterday, prosecutors portrayed the former Democratic power as a hardened criminal, "drunk with power," who defrauded the state Senate and a pair of nonprofit organizations for his own political and personal benefit.

A tearful Fumo, his voice cracking and wavering, begged Buckwalter for "compassion and mercy" before the judge delivered his sentence.

But while the 66-year-old Fumo told the judge he stood before him "a convicted felon" and was deeply sorry for "some errors in judgment," he continued to insist he had done nothing criminal.

"I swear to God, Your Honor, I never intended to steal anything from anybody," Fumo said, looking thinner, wan, and shattered.

Buckwalter ordered Fumo to report to prison on Aug. 31 and said he would pass along to correctional officials a request from Fumo's lawyers that he serve his time at a minimum-security prison camp near Lewisburg, Pa.

With time off for good behavior, Fumo is probably looking at four years in prison, experts said.

Buckwalter also ordered Fumo to pay a total of about $2.4 million in fines and restitution. Hefty as that is, he would emerge from prison with a net worth of almost $7 million, according to figures supplied to the court by his defense team.

Moreover, prosecutors have said that Fumo actually defrauded his victims of $4.2 million. With only a sketchy explanation, Buckwalter declared last week that he had greatly cut the value of the loss for sentencing purposes.

Throughout the hearing yesterday, Buckwalter seemed to be signaling that he would grant a light sentence.

To the consternation of prosecutors, he complained during their presentation that no one from the state Senate had showed up for the hearing to talk about Fumo's theft.

He also pointed out that of about 350 letters sent the court, all but a handful sang Fumo's praises.

The judge grew tense at one point and upbraided Assistant U.S. Attorney John J. Pease for "hyperbole" after Pease said, "There are 11 million people in Pennsylvania who are paying attention to what is happening here."

In fact, the judge said, many people in his home turf of Lancaster County had never heard of Fumo.

He also suggested that Fumo had been the victim of a negative media drumbeat. While singling out The Inquirer's early digging for praise - he said it helped trigger the FBI's investigation - Buckwalter said the newspaper's more recent coverage had been "sensational" and even "mean-spirited."

Former U.S. Attorney Patrick L. Meehan, who made the ultimate decision to indict Fumo in 2007, added his voice to a spate of criticism of Buckwalter's decision.

On the one hand, Meehan said, Fumo had been convicted, removed from the legislature, and was bound for prison. "This is a remarkable event that no one thought would happen," said Meehan, who is considering seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

On the other hand, Meehan said, the sentence was markedly less than those handed other corrupt political figures from Philadelphia in recent years.

As Pease and his prosecutorial colleague, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Zauzmer, had pointed out in court to no avail, former Philadelphia Treasurer Corey Kemp was given a 10-year term and former City Councilman Rick Mariano got 61/2 years - and both were found guilty of far smaller monetary thefts.

In March, a jury found Fumo guilty of all 137 criminal counts in a sweeping indictment that capped a four-year investigation led by FBI agent Vicki Humphreys and former agent Kathleen T. McAfee.

A legislator for 30 years, Fumo had long been one of the most powerful Democrats in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, with a network of allies on numerous boards and agencies and a key say in grants, contracts, patronage, legal work, state budgets, judgeships, and more.

The jury found that Fumo had defrauded the Senate by misleading Senate administrators with bogus job descriptions in order to overpay his staff as they worked illegally on personal and political tasks.

It found that he had handed out no-work city contracts to friends, and unlawfully tapped state funds to put a full-time political consultant and a private eye on his payroll.

According to startling testimony, the detective investigated Fumo's political enemies, his ex-girlfriends, and even a pair of strippers that Fumo had an interest in.

Fumo put a squeeze on Peco Energy Co. in the late 1990s and got it to contribute $17 million in secret to a nonprofit group in South Philadelphia that Fumo founded and controlled. He then looted the nonprofit, using its credit cards to go on spending sprees, the jury found.

Fumo was also convicted of defrauding the nonprofit Independence Seaport Museum on Penn's Landing, where he was a board member for many years. The government proved that Fumo cruised for free year after year on luxury yachts owned by the museum, a fraud that the government said cost the museum $115,000.

Finally, Fumo tried to orchestrate a digital cover-up, deploying his taxpayer-paid Senate computer technicians to "wipe" computers to expunge his e-mail.

One of those technicians, Leonard Luchko, began serving a 21/2-year sentence last week, after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice.

Another former aide, Ruth Arnao, was convicted by the same jury that found Fumo guilty. She is to be sentenced Tuesday.

Buckwalter, a courtly and white-haired former Lancaster County prosecutor and judge, announced his sentence at 5:30 p.m. after a 51/2-hour hearing that was by turns angry, voyeuristic, and sad.

In his remarks, prosecutor Pease noted that Fumo at least three times before had been at the center of serious corruption scandals.

As a young state government administrator in the 1970s, Fumo was fired because he had been using his office to dig up dirt on political opponents.

In the same decade, he was arrested - even before he won election to the Senate - on vote-fraud charges. The case was brought by a Republican district attorney, but dropped by a Democratic one.

Three years after winning the Senate seat formerly held by Henry "Buddy" Cianfrani (who went to prison after pleading guilty to corruption), Fumo was charged with putting "no-show" workers on the state payroll. A federal jury convicted him, but a judge quickly set aside the verdict.

Despite these warnings, Pease said, Fumo continued breaking the law. "He is someone who never learned," Pease said.

Fumo plotted and schemed, Pease said, even though he grew up a child of some privilege.

Drawing a comparison, Pease said, "inner-city youths who have nothing else to do with their time and so they sell crack" are put in prison for decades. By the same token, the prosecutor argued, Fumo should receive a tough sentence.

In pleading for mercy, Fumo's defense team went into details about his multiple health woes - his heart attack last year, his diabetes, his high blood pressure, and his back pain and surgeries.

Defense lawyer Dennis J. Cogan told the court how Fumo popped massive amounts of Xanax to get through his trial. Another defense lawyer, Samuel Buffone, ticked off the former senator's emotional issues: anxiety, depression, insomnia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

They also stressed Fumo's "good works" - an argument that resonated with Buckwalter. The judge, in delivering his sentence, praised Fumo as an outstanding legislator who "worked extraordinarily hard."

Fumo's new fiancee, Carolyn Zinni, 51, stood at the podium and, in a confident voice, told Buckwalter that some of her friends had questioned her decision to get engaged to a man facing a prison term.

"I would rather be with him for the short time I have than 50 years with someone else," she said.

She said her father died about a month ago, but before he passed away, she talked to him about the case.

"He said they did it to Jesus on Holy Thursday," Zinni said. "Now I'm sure the media will write that I am comparing him to Jesus, but I am not."

In sum, she told the judge, "please consider the Vincent and the man we know and love, and not the monster the prosecutors have designed him to be."

In perhaps the most wrenching testimony, Fumo's youngest daughter, Allie, 19, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, fought for emotional control throughout her brief remarks.

"Your Honor, I'm here to say: Don't take my father for long," she pleaded.

The night before sentencing, she said, she cried for hours in her father's arms.

"Please consider the fact that he is my only father and he's done a lot of good," she said.

Fumo's son, Vincent, was in the audience, but his third child and oldest daughter, Nicole, is estranged from the former senator and didn't attend the hearing.

Her husband, Christian Marrone, was a key prosecution witness against Fumo.