Along with being a state senator, a "rainmaker" for a Philadelphia law firm, and a banker, Vincent J. Fumo was also a gentleman farmer.
Yesterday, two of his former aides told a federal jury they assisted Fumo as he tried his hand at agriculture on a 100-acre farm outside Harrisburg he bought for $515,000 in January 2003.
Retired Fumo driver Charles Sholders, 69, said he would cut out from state work early to labor on the farm.
Gerald Sabol, a retired budget analyst who made as much as $118,000 yearly, said for about a half a year before retiring he would work on farm matters during the workweek. Those tasks amounted to about 45 minutes a day.
Sholders and his wife lived for free on the farm in Halifax from the fall of 2003 until December 2005. His wife was also paid $200 a week to work there, taking care of two horses and some goats.
But Sholders said his wife was overwhelmed by her duties and needed help, even though she put in about 70 hours a week. So he would pitch in.
"It's a farm," he told the jury. "Farm work ain't easy. You can't stop feeding 'em. You can't stop watering 'em."
Sabol, who retired in June 2003, told the jury that he did research on farm issues while on Fumo's staff.
Prosecutors questioned him about e-mails from Fumo in which the senator asked him about using the farm to graze alpacas and whether he could collect as much as $4,200 yearly in farm subsidies by not raising crops.
Prosecutors also introduced an e-mail from Fumo in which he asked Sabol to find out who the local officials were in the surrounding community. In an apparent plan to ingratiate himself with the officials, Fumo suggested that he could arrange to give them so-called WAM grants for community projects. (WAM is shorthand for controversial state grants known as "walking-around money.")
However, in an e-mail sent in the spring of 2003, Fumo also wrote Sabol with a warning: "Your duties to the committee come absolutely FIRST and FOREMOST .. I cannot and will not pay you with taxpayer money to work on the farm."
According to prosecutors, Fumo issued the warning after one of his senior staff members grew upset that Sabol was devoting too much time to the farm.
Fumo, for years one of the most powerful Democrats in the state, is in the sixth week of his trial on federal corruption charges. In large part, the sweeping indictment charges him with defrauding the state Senate by having his taxpayer-paid staff work on personal tasks or campaigns.
Fumo's lead defense lawyer, Dennis J. Cogan, has told the jury that Fumo's loyal and proud staff, aside from what personal work they did for him, gave taxpayers the required 37 1/2 hours a week of labor.
In other testimony, Sholders, who was paid $49,000 when he retired, recalled that workers from a Fumo-controlled South Philadelphia nonprofit, Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, brought a small tractor and a backhoe to help dig up the farm.
In another part of the indictment, Fumo is charged with using Citizens' Alliance's staff, equipment and money for his personal aggrandizement.
Sholders also testified that Fumo aides would falsify their receipts when Fumo and others ate in a Philadelphia restaurant in order to have the Senate pay for their liquor bills there. The Senate policy is normally not to reimburse for liquor, he said.
In 2003, The Inquirer reported that Fumo had billed taxpayers $73,000 for two years of dining at La Veranda restaurant at Penn's Landing.