Throughout the five-month Fumo trial, Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter presented himself as a sympathetic senior magistrate with patience and kindness toward all.

But that is not the man who presided in court Tuesday.

Before cutting Vincent Fumo a massive break, he discounted almost everyone else involved: the federal agents, the prosecutors, the voters and taxpayers, the press, the probation officer and, most egregious of all, the jury. Everyone, it seems, except the defendant.

"What is the crime we're talking about here?" he asked. "It's not the selling of a political office. In fact, in this case, not a dime went directly to the defendant, although there's no question that he benefitted from what he was able to get from the budget of the Senate."

What case, precisely, had Buckwalter been listening to for those five months?

The judge insisted repeatedly that the former state senator had not engaged in bribery, as though this is the only crime committed by an elected official warranting serious jail time.

He made these comments despite evidence of blistering Fumo e-mails detailing his abuse of the system and subsequent cover-up, and testimony from 107 witnesses including former Verizon chief Dan Whelan, whom Fumo tried to shake down for $50 million - attempted extortion that might make a wiseguy weep with envy.

Buckwalter's character assessment came down to the fact that Fumo "worked extraordinarily hard."

So did Richard Nixon.

The judge based his decision "principally upon the letters I've read in your support," more than 250 from political friends and grateful constituents who had benefitted from Fumo's power and service.

In placing such weight on work ethic and a fat cache of last-minute letters, Buckwalter suggested that the four years federal agents Vicki Humphreys and Kathy McAfee spent investigating Fumo, and the time federal prosecutors John J. Pease and Robert A. Zauzmer worked on the case, five and three years respectively, had been for naught.

Buckwalter ignored the presentencing report, compiled by a veteran probation officer, which argued that under advisory guidelines Fumo should get up to 27 years.

He belittled the media, noting that the scheme by which Fumo defrauded taxpayers and Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods "was so simple that reporters and the staff of The Philadelphia Inquirer could discover it."

He cited the importance of the press as a watchdog, then chided the papers by saying that "many of their articles were characterized by appeals to the sensational side" of the trial - without taking into consideration Fumo's extravagant behavior and temperament.

Buckwalter derided taxpayers for not questioning Fumo's pet charity, Citizens' Alliance, wondering why no voters asked, " 'What the heck, where's all this money coming from?' It didn't happen."

He mocked voter and political complacency for keeping Fumo in office: "There was never any meaningful competition as the senator stood for election every year." This may be true, but it's irrelevant in a court of law.

He became two judges, one with sympathy and deference toward the defense, and another with a decidedly short fuse toward the prosecution. After saying "I'm not going to editorialize anymore, I'm not going to interrupt anymore," to prosecutor Pease, Buckwalter did precisely that, ridiculing the government's statements about the loss of public confidence for elected officials among Pennsylvania's 11 million residents.

"Do you think that or is that just a figment of your imagination?" the Lancaster County-bred Buckwalter snapped. "I can't help but laugh. There are probably nine million people who don't know who Fumo is," adding, "People out in my county don't know who Fumo is." Showing his annoyance, Buckwalter said, "When you use hyperbole, it's the one thing that offends my ordinarily mild-mannered demeanor."

However, when defense attorney Dennis J. Cogan repeatedly cited "the billions" Fumo directed toward Philadelphia - as if his client had done it alone - Buckwalter never challenged those assertions.

Most important, Buckwalter's sentence was an insult to the jury and its unanimous verdict of guilty on all 137 counts. "Fifty-five months was a very surprising ending - and baffling to me," juror Myrna DeVoren said. The sentence does "not send a strong enough message about white-collar crime," echoed juror Kaylyn Fain.

Yesterday, in a court filing, the government argued that the Fumo sentence was "unduly lenient and unreasonable." Prosecutors intend to appeal the decision, though reversals are rare.

Buckwalter arrogantly contended that few people cared about Fumo's crimes or the outcome of this case. In one of his many head-shaking assertions Tuesday, the judge noted that, in comparison to the outpouring of support, he had received only five letters condemning Fumo's behavior, a situation that has surely been rectified since sentencing.

Contact staff writer Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com