Federal prosecutors took a first step yesterday toward appealing the 55-month prison sentence given to former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, who is scheduled to report to prison this month.

In a one-sentence court filing, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert A. Zauzmer and John J. Pease submitted a "notice of appeal" of the sentence imposed last month by U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter.

The prosecutors had sought a prison sentence of more than 15 years.

They already have called the prison term "unduly lenient" and said the sentence, which triggered widespread public criticism, had done "grave damage to the public's respect for the law and expectation of justice."

The filing also set the stage for the defense to submit notice that it will file a cross-appeal. Defense attorney Dennis J. Cogan said the defense would file such notice today or tomorrow.

Yesterday's government filing is just an initial step in the appellate process, which would be in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The final decision must be made by the U.S. solicitor general, and the review process could take months.

Fumo, 66, a longtime powerful Democrat in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, was convicted of 137 counts of conspiracy, fraud, obstructing justice, and tax violations in March.

In addition to his prison sentence, Fumo was ordered to pay about $2.4 million in fines and restitution.

Buckwalter set an Aug. 31 deadline for Fumo to report for incarceration, and indicated that he would pass along to prison 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.

The prosecution contended that he defrauded the Senate and two nonprofits, Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods and the Independence Seaport Museum, and obstructed the FBI investigation.

The prosecutors filed a similar notice of appeal regarding the sentence given to Fumo's codefendant, Ruth Arnao, 52, whom Buckwalter sentenced to a year and a day in prison.

Arnao, the former head of Citizens' Alliance, was found guilty of 45 counts, most relating to the fraud on the nonprofit.

Contact staff writer Emilie Lounsberry at 215-854-4828 or

at elounsberry@phillynews.com.