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Philly airport officials say they didn't know of Fumo son's stake in franchise

Top officials at Philadelphia International Airport say they were never informed that the son of former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo had acquired a share in an airport cheesesteak franchise, but they're not sure they care.

Top officials at Philadelphia International Airport say they were never informed that the son of former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo had acquired a share in an airport cheesesteak franchise, but they're not sure they care.

"We probably will take a look at it," James Tyrrell, city deputy director of aviation, said in a telephone interview last week. "We really need to discuss it. I don't know if this is something we should be overly concerned about."

Vincent E. Fumo II filed suit in Common Pleas Court on March 29, complaining that he had paid $150,000 in 2009 for a 30 percent share of the cheesesteak business, but had received less than half the return promised - "a guaranteed return of $50,000 a year for every year that the restaurant was in business."

The complaint was filed against Andrew A. Cosenza, a Mount Laurel businessman who had donated $35,000 to the senior Fumo's political campaigns, raised money for Fumo's legal-defense fund and accompanied the former senator when Fumo reported to federal prison in Ashland, Ky., in 2009 after his conviction on corruption charges. Fumo's current sentence runs into 2014.

In addition to his joint venture at the airport with Fumo's son, Cosenza owns five airport concessions by himself, according to MarketPlace Development, a Massachusetts firm that handles the airport's concession leasing, construction, and related services.

Cosenza also holds licenses for eight concession operations at service plazas on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, according to HMSHost, a Maryland company that is spending an estimated $100 million to renovate 18 service plazas in exchange for a 30-year term running them.

The Turnpike Commission gets a share of the proceeds. The deal with HMSHost was signed in 2006, when the Turnpike Commission was chaired by Philadelphia businessman Mitchell Rubin, another close Fumo ally. Rubin pleaded guilty in 2009 to obstruction-of-justice charges tied to the Fumo case, and Rubin's wife, Ruth Arnao, was a Fumo codefendant who spent a year in prison.

Paul O. McGinn, president of MarketPlace, said in a telephone interview his firm also had been unaware that Cosenza had any partners at the airport until learning of Fumo's lawsuit. He said the firm then contacted Cosenza, who confirmed that Fumo was a non-voting, 30 percent partner in the airport cheesesteak enterprise, known as Philly Steak & Gyro, located in a secure area between the airport's B and C terminals.

The firm did not ask Cosenza about the terms specified in Fumo's lawsuit, and Cosenza did not disclose them, McGinn said.

"Knowing the details of a business, down to their private ownership structure, is not something that we typically get involved with," McGinn said. "It has not been a requirement that we have nor a requirement that the city puts on us. . . . As long as they are performing well in terms of providing service to the traveling public, that is our concern."

Cosenza's attorney, Joseph P. Grimes, said he was working on a response to Fumo's lawsuit but wasn't prepared to discuss financial details of their deal.

Franchise ownership at the airport surfaced as a potential corruption issue during the city's "pay-to-play" scandal in the mid-2000s, set off when an FBI listening device was discovered in the office of then-Mayor John F. Street.

Wiretapped conversations, later released by the federal government, showed that one of Street's top fund-raisers, the late lawyer Ronald White, had somehow acquired the clout to pick some airport vendors. White's wife and his girlfriend surfaced with interests in airport bars, and in one intercepted telephone call, White ordered the city aviation director to approve printing work for his girlfriend's printing firm.

Despite that history, the city has done nothing to bring more transparency to the selection of airport vendors. Under the airport's contract with MarketPlace, vendors are selected by the private firm, subject to approval by airport officials.

Neither MarketPlace nor the airport requires disclosure of everyone with a financial interest in airport franchises, so the involvement of Fumo's son would not have become public information if he had not disclosed it himself in his lawsuit.

"Obviously, the airport has been a hot spot for problems in the past," said Ellen Kaplan, vice president and policy director of the Committee of Seventy, a civic reform group. "They should have a policy that requires disclosure of everyone who has a financial interest in their concessions."

Asked about the issue by The Inquirer, Mayor Nutter's spokesman, Mark McDonald, said the administration was considering stronger disclosure requirements for airport vendors. He made no commitments.

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