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Once his solace, sea stings Fumo

His trial has detailed free yacht trips, pricey boat models, and a $150,000 tall-ship painting.

John Stobart's painting of the Gazela off Cape May, a $150,000 work commissioned by the Citizens' Alliance charity in 2004.
John Stobart's painting of the Gazela off Cape May, a $150,000 work commissioned by the Citizens' Alliance charity in 2004.Read more

Politician, banker, lawyer, shopaholic. Vincent J. Fumo is all of these. But it turns out that perhaps his chief obsession is for all things nautical.

That's why, for many an hour in the former state senator's marathon corruption trial, jurors have been taken on a sea cruise of sorts.

They have learned about Fumo's free trips on luxury yachts. About his enthusiasm for "half-hull" boat models - 3-foot-long, highly expensive wooden ships. About how a charity paid $150,000 for a painting of a tall ship that, it is said, ended up in Fumo's mansion.

Now all of this has turned bitter for Fumo. Federal prosecutors are saying he massively defrauded a pair of Philadelphia nonprofits for all of it - the overnight cruises, the ship models, the expensive painting.

Along the way, Fumo has been accused of a series of lesser offenses.

The captains of the yachts say he was a lousy tipper - or stiffed them entirely. The French chef who whipped up the lavish spreads on the boats says he didn't get paid immediately, either.

A museum curator took the stand and sniffed at that tall-ship painting, paid for by a South Philadelphia charity at Fumo's command. Trouble was, the curator said, it wasn't historically appropriate.

As for those models, including two of Fumo's own $500,000 Hinckley powerboat, the museum that paid for them says it can't find most of them.

The defense says there is nothing sinister about any of Fumo's actions. One defense lawyer, Edwin J. Jacobs Jr., told the jury that Fumo was "a man of many and varied interests," that those interests included the nautical, and that Fumo had seen ways to use his interests to benefit the Independence Seaport Museum and others.

Time to embark, then, on a tour of Fumoworld, Sea World edition.

The yachts

With two places at the Jersey Shore, another on Jupiter Island, Fla., and an annual summer rental in Martha's Vineyard, Fumo had ample opportunity to indulge his love of the sea. After all, Fumo, a licensed boat captain, once said his hours at sea were "the only time I relax."

The Independence Seaport Museum and its disgraced former president, John S. Carter, did what they could to elevate Fumo's mood.

Year after year, it is now clear, Carter provided museum-owned yachts free to Fumo, a museum board member, for multiday cruises: Winters meant sailing off Florida aboard the Enticer, and summers were for enjoying the Principia on Nantucket Sound. When those two weren't available, the museum rented the Sweet Distraction for him.

Fumo loved it all. According to an e-mail exhibit at his trial, he told his girlfriend at the time, Dorothy Egrie-Wilcox, that his ex-wife was "devastated" when she learned he was taking his new squeeze on the Principia.

"She says that was always the high point of all of her vacations and now you will be there with me!" Fumo wrote.

On board, Fumo could be an upbeat guest. Capt. Jeff O'Brien, who skippered the Principia for Fumo's party, recalled a day when Fumo approached him in the cabin.

"That's my autopilot you're using," Fumo told him, indicating equipment paid for with state or foundation grants he had obtained for the museum.

But Fumo was less expansive when the subject turned to his own money. Two yacht captains testified that Fumo either had tipped lightly or not at all.

When it came time for the tip, O'Brien said, the senator sometimes told him that the museum would take care of it. But that didn't always happen, O'Brien said.

In 1999 and 2000, prosecutors showed, Fumo ran up big tabs for lavish onboard meals prepared by a French chef, Regis Louchet, during four-hour cruises off Florida.

Champagne flowed, and salmon fillet, canapes, and beef tenderloin with bordelaise sauce were just some of the menu items.

The 1999 meal, for 23 guests, cost $3,053. The next year, the tab for 14 guests was $2,540.

Jean Wyatt-Filer, who operated the Enticer with her husband, the captain, said that it was customary for guests to pay the chef at the time of the cruise, but that Fumo had disembarked without paying.

The witnesses said the museum typically had paid up, and put things right with Chef Louchet, for example.

The defense sought to persuade the jury that Fumo's cruises had been about boosting the profile of the museum - "development," in the jargon of fund-raising.

Among other things, the defense argued, a sandwich board was planted near the docking point urging other people to lease the yacht. The museum charged the public $3,500 for a four-hour cruise.

The ship models

Of the many boats Fumo has enjoyed over the years, it seems his favorite was the one he named 888, which Egrie-Wilcox testified was Fumo's pet shorthand for X and Os, hugs and kisses.

The vessel was a Hinckley Picnic Boat. According to testimony, the powerboat was worth $500,000 and had been given to Fumo by Stephen Marcus, a direct-mail magnate who was one of Fumo's closest friends and his biggest campaign contributor.

Good friend. Nice gift.

According to testimony last week, the Independence Seaport Museum ended up paying $10,000 for two half-hull models of Fumo's 888.

The models were crafted by artist Mark Sutherland of Concord, Mass. He uses pine to create a scale hull of the boat, as if cut in half, and attaches it to a mahogany plaque.

Sutherland said in an interview last week that the classic lines of the Hinckley appealed to "a certain class of people, the big-money crowd."

He crafted six more models, four of the Principia and two of the Enticer, at a total cost of about $9,000.

Craig Bruns, the curator at Independence Seaport Museum, took the stand last week and walked the jurors through the mystery of the models.

Of the eight, he testified, the museum today has only two.

He said he had retrieved a model of the Principia and one of the Enticer from Carter's museum-owned house after Carter was fired in 2006. Carter is serving a 15-year federal prison for looting his institution of $1.5 million. Fumo had no connection to Carter's crimes.

Asked about other models, Bruns was puzzled.

"That is news to me - that there are more," he said.

Where are the models?

According to testimony and exhibits, some were in Fumo's possession, at least in 2001 and 2004.

In a 2001 e-mail, Fumo wrote that one of the models had arrived at his legislative office in South Philadelphia. "It is beautiful!" he gushed.

Fumo's former butler, Matthew Fonseca, testified that in 2004 he had spotted three of them - the 888, the Enticer, and the Principia - in Fumo's home office in his mansion in Philadelphia.

Bruns, the curator, told the jury that he had never seen any models of the Hinckley. No one had ever suggested a display of any Hinckley models, he added.

"Our collection mainly focuses on the craft of the Delaware River valley," he said.

Bruns was bemused by the decision to spend museum money on the Hinckley models.

He pointed out that the Hinckley, first built in 1994 by a Maine boatyard, had no connection to the region's maritime history, the point of the Independence Seaport Museum.

While they have yet to put on their case, Fumo's lawyers are expected to argue that the butler got it wrong - that the models were never in Fumo's house but were on display at his legislative offices or in the offices of Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, the Fumo-linked nonprofit in South Philadelphia.

The painting

It may seem odd that Citizens' Alliance - a street-sweeping, snow-shoveling organization - should have displayed ship models.

But this may not have been its only plunge into the maritime world.

In 2004, according to documents, Fumo saw to it that Citizens' Alliance paid a $150,000 commission to John Stobart, a highly regarded maritime painter in Massachusetts.

Fumo, a collector of maritime art, was a patron of Stobart's. He hung Stobart's works in his Senate office in Harrisburg and at his family bank's headquarters in Philadelphia.

A photograph of the 2004 Stobart painting is now Government Exhibit 1431 at Fumo's corruption trial. The dramatic picture shows the tall ship Gazela under full sail at night, illuminated by the beam from a lighthouse.

The ship is docked at Penn's Landing, not far from the Independence Seaport Museum.

In one part of its sweeping indictment, the government argues that paying for that art was a perversion of the charity's mission.

The former butler, Fonseca, testified Dec. 10 that he recalled that painting - on an easel in the foyer of Fumo's 31-room home in the Spring Garden neighborhood.

Aside from disputing that Fumo had put the painting on display, the defense told the jury that the $150,000 expenditure was part of a complex, synergistic plan by the senator.

It was a dream that would link two institutions close to Fumo's heart: Citizens' Alliance and the Independence Seaport Museum.

These are the very institutions he is now charged with defrauding to the tune of $1.5 million.

Under Fumo's plan, Citizens' Alliance would buy the painting. The maritime museum would show it off at a fancy reception.

Then 1,000 prints would be run off of the painting and sold to raise money for both organizations.

Fumo's plan didn't pan out. Carter went off to prison. The reception was never held.

Bruns, the curator, sniffed at the whole idea.

For one thing, he told jurors, the painting showed the Gazela off Cape May. Trouble was, the Gazela, a fishing vessel, worked off Maine and Newfoundland in its heyday.

"So that's after its historic period," Bruns pointed out.

After Bruns became curator in 2006, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer asked, "did you have any interest in this painting?"

"No, not really," Bruns replied.

"The way the museum is set up, we tell stories - historic story lines, and that painting didn't fit in," he said.

Moreover, Fumo seemed to have forgotten something. The Gazela belongs to another nonprofit, the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild.

"The Gazela is a neighbor institution's ship," Bruns said. "And for us to use their image to promote the museum just doesn't seem right."

Not long ago, Christian DiCicco, the executive director of Citizens' Alliance, visited the seaport museum to inspect the painting.

"We would really like the painting to leave," Bruns said. "I asked him to take it."

He didn't. It is still in museum storage, out of sight.