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Legions of Fumo letter-writers sought leniency

The pleas for mercy for disgraced former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo came from a congressman and a retired detective, from an ex-mayor, from top business and civic leaders, from leading lawyers and former judges.

The pleas for mercy for disgraced former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo came from a congressman and a retired detective, from an ex-mayor, from top business and civic leaders, from leading lawyers and former judges.

Some letter-writers were beneficiaries of Fumo's clout. Some were his political cronies. Others were ordinary folks from South Philly.

On handwritten notes or formal letterhead, the writers urged U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter to go easy on Fumo, to focus on the good that he had done while wielding tremendous power in Philadelphia and Harrisburg and not on his greed and lawbreaking.

They got their wish.

On Tuesday, Buckwalter sentenced Fumo to four years and seven months in prison. That was far below the maximum penalty of 27 years that prosecutors and the U.S. Probation Department had said could be justified under advisory sentencing guidelines.

Buckwalter observed before delivering his sentence that he had received only a handful of letters urging a long prison term. Though a few letters had been released before the sentencing - one from Gov. Rendell, most notably - the rest were made public yesterday.

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, a fellow Philadelphia Democrat, wrote that although Fumo's crimes "cannot be excused," the judge should realize that the conviction did not "account for the totality of Mr. Fumo's public life and activities."

Though Fattah and many others focused on Fumo's public career, they also offered much praise for what they called his small deeds of kindness. And numerous writers told the judge that Fumo had suffered plenty already.

Lawyer Martin Weinberg, a longtime political ally of Fumo's, wrote that his friends were "shocked by the offense he committed."

"However, I would ask, Your Honor, to take into consideration in sentencing, the good works that Mr. Fumo has done for his community and for the City of Philadelphia," he added.

Weinberg chairs the law firm Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hippel.

Neither he nor Thomas Leonard, also an Obermayer partner, mentioned that Fumo had steered $3 million in Verizon legal work to their firm, according to trial testimony.

Instead, Leonard's letter cited "certain solid-gold characteristics of my friend," such as his love for his children and his help in improving the city's Spring Garden section, where he and Fumo live.

In all, more than 250 people wrote letters to the judge.

Among them: former Mayor W. Wilson Goode, former Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, City Councilman Frank DiCicco, former Montgomery County District Attorney Michael D. Marino, local NAACP head J. Whyatt Mondesire, Philly Pops conductor Peter Nero, former state Attorney General Leroy Zimmerman, gay-rights leader Mark Segal, former Pennsylvania Chief Justice Stephen A. Zappala, and Electric Factory founder Larry Magid.

Among the many top business and nonprofit leaders who wrote was Joseph A. Frick, chief executive of Independence Blue Cross, where Fumo was a board member until his indictment; parking magnate Joseph Z. Zuritsky; former Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce head Charles Pizzi; and real estate developers Peter DePaul, Ron Rubin, and John Westrum.

Though letters of support came from many longtime allies, Councilman James Kenney, who at one time was Fumo's chief of staff, did not write.

Comcast executive David L. Cohen, mayoral chief of staff when Rendell led the city and they turned around Philadelphia's finances, said Fumo had been "the city's number-one protector in Harrisburg," securing millions for the city from a hostile legislature.

Arthur Makadon, chairman of the Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll law firm, wrote that a long prison term would deny Fumo his ability to make a "meaningful contribution" with the rest of his life.

After a stint in prison, Makadon wrote, perhaps Fumo could be directed to "live permanently among the homeless," to help their cause.

Makadon was also one of the few to minimize the charges against Fumo. "I could not help marvel at the pettiness that seemed to be at the heart of many of the 'crimes' at issue," he wrote.

Art dealer Reese Palley wrote one of the most nuanced letters.

On the one hand, Palley said, he could not "excuse the ethical blind spots that Vince developed after years in public service." That, he wrote, reflected a "sickness of the spirit" that afflicts those who wield power for too long.

Still, Palley wrote, "Vince is not an evil man. He has fallen from grace from a very high place. The fall itself is punishment that few of us could endure."

Letter after letter described Fumo, 66, as a pathetically broken and beaten man estranged from family, zoned out on medication, almost unable to haul himself out of bed in the morning.

"The investigation, trial and conviction have dramatically altered his persona," Leonard wrote. "He is depressed, inactive and ashamed. He has aged 20 years in the last two years."

Former State Rep. John A. Lawless wrote that "Vince's personal life has been destroyed."

"His daughter [Nicole] has disowned him, and he has two grandchildren he has never seen because he has been forbidden from doing so."

Businessman Andrew Cosenza wrote: "Since this investigation began, I've seen a gradual tearing down of this once-legendary figure of command. I've seen his dignity stripped away. . . . I've seen a flawed, but good man, reduced to a gray, listless existence."

Fumo's extended family also weighed in, lauding him as a gentle, kind person who took care of his father after his mother died and who was always there to offer solace to a family member in need.

"Vincent's empathy and compassion, while not always visible on the surface, are forces that define who he really is," wrote Mary Fumo Hohnhold, a cousin.

Although prosecutors proved that Fumo had hired a state-paid private eye to tail former girlfriends, one former Fumo flame who wasn't followed wrote a letter declaring that she still could count on Fumo's "profound and selfless loyalty."

"The nectar of good lives in this uncommon man," Roseanne Martin wrote.

Not all came to praise Fumo. Among the perhaps five letters urging a tough sentence was one from Mark D. Schwartz, a Paoli lawyer.

"I have a real sense of rage over the fact that not one public official has spoken out against Vince Fumo," he wrote.

In passing, Schwartz said he was angry at Rendell for writing to seek leniency. When Rendell was Philadelphia district attorney, Schwartz wrote, he called for a hard line against criminals.

"There is no such tough talk now from Ed," Schwartz wrote.

Another critical letter came from Republican Bruce Marks, who a federal judge determined in 1994 had been the victim of a Democratic plot to steal a state Senate election. Fumo helped pay the legal fees of Marks' Democratic opponent.

Noting that Fumo had been charged three times in corruption cases - he was not convicted in the first two - Marks wrote that Fumo's career "evidences a life-long pattern of criminal conduct."

Any sentence, he said, should take into account Fumo's "pernicious threat to our freedom."