She stood by her man, and it cost her.

Ruth Arnao, unwaveringly loyal to former State Sen. Vincent Fumo, yesterday paid the price for a quarter-century's allegiance to her powerful boss.

As Fumo was convicted on all 137 counts of conspiracy, fraud, obstruction of justice, and tax violations, Arnao, his sole codefendant in the federal corruption case, was declared guilty on all 45 of hers.

Little-known to the public, Arnao, 52, former executive director of Fumo's nonprofit, Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, kept a low profile during the five-month trial. Unlike Fumo, she did not testify.

Arnao remained free on $500,000 bail, but she didn't have to put up any cash. She signed a form allowing prosecutors to sell her Spring Garden home - situated a few blocks from Fumo's mansion - if she flees.

According to federal guidelines, Arnao will face less than 10 years in prison, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Zauzmer. He said that Fumo faced more than 10 years. No date was set for sentencing.

Perhaps Arnao's fealty to a power player like Fumo, 65, is explained by her life story.

As her boss, mentor, and friend, he introduced her to a life that would have been unthinkable for a former waitress from Pittsburgh who at age 18 was a single mother of a son and daughter.

In his closing argument, the federal prosecutor derisively characterized Arnao as Fumo's rubber stamp.

In an interview after yesterday's verdict, one juror labeled her "a follower." The juror summed up: "She reaped the benefits and she was a follower."

Those benefits, prosecutors argued, included free yacht-vacation cruises, accompanied by her husband, with Fumo; and a $150,000 salary from Citizens' Alliance.

Prosecutors also said she took part in Fumo's illegal shopping sprees with Citizens' Alliance credit cards at Lowe's, Home Depot, and Sam's Club.

The government case against Fumo included the charge that he had awarded a "no-work" Senate consulting contract to Arnao's husband, Mitchell Rubin, the chairman of the state Turnpike Commission. Rubin was not charged.

Prosecutors acknowledged that the nonprofit Citizens' Alliance, which Arnao helped establish in 1991 while she was a Fumo legislative aide, had done much good.

Among the recipients of its grants has been MANNA, a charity that provides free meals to AIDS patients and cancer victims. Arnao served on the MANNA board for several years.

"Ruth was a devoted worker who obviously made some bad decisions - probably out of loyalty, not greed," said MANNA executive director Richard Keaveney. "I cannot explain it or understand it.

"I see Ruth as a giver. For as long as I've known her, she's been one of the go-to people to help the down-and-out. That's the Ruth Arnao I know."

Edwin J. Jacobs Jr., Arnao's attorney, yesterday described his client as "crushed."

He said he and Fumo defense lawyer Dennis J. Cogan "believed we presented credible defenses, all of which were rejected by the jury.

"So be it. It's overwhelming."

Contact staff writer Gail Shister
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