Prosecutor: Fumo had sense of entitlement

October 22, 2008 4:44:22 PM PDT
An influential state senator motivated by "greed, power and a profound sense of entitlement" used $3.5 million of "other people's money" to live a lavish lifestyle and pursue his political agenda, a federal prosecutor said to begin the lawmaker's corruption trial Wednesday. Sen. Vincent Fumo was obsessed with money and collected expensive power tools the way some people collect stamps or coins, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pease told jurors in an 80-minute opening statement.

The 65-year-old Democrat is accused of using $3.5 million in funds from the Senate, a maritime museum and a nonprofit to fund an extravagant lifestyle and a potent political machine. He has pleaded not guilty to 139 counts of fraud and obstruction.

Senate staffers cleaned Fumo's home, did his shopping, oversaw construction at his Philadelphia mansion, drove his children to school and even drove 60 miles round trip to have his clothes laundered, Pease said. Other Senate staffers spied on his ex-wife and girlfriends and conducted partisan political activities on state time, he said.

None stepped up to question whether such work was appropriate, Pease said.

Fumo's defense lawyer, Dennis Cogan, told jurors it is permissible for a senator to use his staff for personal tasks if it makes him more efficient. He told jurors that Senate rules were vague to the point of being nonexistent about what staffers can do to help their boss.

"His staff doesn't even call themselves Democrats ... they're 'Fumocrats.' They're part of Fumo World," Cogan said.

Cogan said Fumo worked 24/7 for his constituents and that it was therefore impossible for him to differentiate between his private and work lives. "When you work like he works, it's inextricably intertwined," he said.

Fumo was once the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and helped fill the rosters of city and state government with people loyal to him. He also is credited with writing numerous pieces of legislation in Harrisburg since he was elected to the state Senate in 1978.

Pease said life as a kingmaker and powerbroker went to Fumo's head.

"Greed, power and a profound sense of entitlement is what this case is all about," Pease said. "Vincent Fumo is a man who had anything anybody could ever want and chose to use OPM, other people's money," to live well and push his political agenda. Because of the trial, Fumo decided not to seek another term in the Nov. 4 election. His trial, which has been delayed numerous times, is expected to last several months.

Also on trial is Ruth Arnao, an aide and longtime Fumo friend. Pease described her as "a loyal, ambitious aide" who wanted to rise in the Fumo organization so that she could enjoy the trappings of his lifestyle. Pease says Fumo and Arnao stole $1 million from Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, a group created to supplement trash cleanup and other city services in South Philadelphia.

Despite that focus on only one section of the city, the nonprofit's vehicles were sent 60 miles each way to pick up trash at Fumo's New Jersey shore condo and the group paid about $100,000 for tools, some of which went to Fumo's central Pennsylvania farm, Pease said.

The nonprofit even paid for a book entitled "The Encyclopedia of Country Living," Pease said.

"It's just one small example of the many ways in which Vince Fumo and Ruth Arnao stole from Citizens' Alliance," Pease said. Citizens' Alliance also spent $600,000 on Fumo's luxurious Senate district office, $250,000 on political polling and $40,000 for Fumo and friends to travel to Cuba, Pease said.

Cogan countered that it was permissible for the nonprofits to give Fumo token noncash compensation, such as the use of the maritime museum's yacht or, in the case of Citizens' Alliance, "some consumer goods."

Arnao also pleaded not guilty. Her attorney, Ralph Jacobs, was expected to give his opening statement later Wednesday afternoon.

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