Fumo, in '04, denied getting benefits from charity

January 8, 2009 5:58:22 PM PST
Although trial witnesses say a once-powerful state senator got vehicles, office space, staff help, tools, vacuums and other goodies from a South Philadelphia charity run by loyal underlings, ex-state Sen. Vincent Fumo told an interviewer in 2004 that he received nothing from the group. "I don't get any money for it. I don't get any benefits from it," Fumo said of his ties to Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, to which he steered millions in state grants and corporate donations.

Fumo, in the Jan. 29, 2004 "Radio Times" interview, also told host Marty Moss-Coane he had been surprised to learn the nonprofit was picking up his trash. He said he had immediately started reimbursing the group $100 a month for the service.

But an FBI agent testified at Fumo's corruption trial Thursday that the Democratic power broker wrote the first $100 check for trash services on Jan. 30, 2004 - the day after the radio interview.

Fumo, 65, who left office last year after a 30-year Senate career, is charged in a 139-count indictment with defrauding Citizens Alliance, the senate and the Independence Seaport Museum of more than $3.5 million.

Prosecution witnesses over 11 weeks have detailed countless luxuries, from $900 vacuums to $25,000 yacht trips and a $50,000 vehicle, that Fumo allegedly received gratis from the victim groups. Many of the items were ultimately funded by a state grant to Citizens Alliance, which had as its stated purpose cleaning streets and providing other services in Fumo's South Philadelphia district, the FBI agent said Thursday.

Agent Brian Nichilo also detailed the $880,000 spent on a neighborhood building that housed the nonprofit, along with Fumo's district and campaign offices.

Citizens Alliance spent about $240,000 to buy the building; $105,000 to outfit Fumo's personal office with mahogany cabinetry and other furnishings; and $213,000 to upgrade the district office, Nichilo testified.

In addition to the state grant, Citizens Alliance received $17 million from Peco Energy, a donation that Fumo secured as the utility negotiated with the state over deregulation.

Next up in the three-month corruption trial is the expected testimony next week of former Senate computer technician Leonard Luchko, once a loyal member of what some called Fumoworld. Luchko and former colleague Mark Eister, named in the indictment along with Fumo and former Citizens Alliance director Ruth Arnao, have pleaded guilty to obstruction and agreed to testify against their former boss.

Arnao, once chief of staff in Fumo's senate office, pleaded not guilty and remains by Fumo's side at the defense table.

Luchko and Eister have admitted they systematically destroyed years worth of e-mails on Fumo's orders as the FBI closed in.

Nichilo, the FBI agent, on Thursday described the circuitous route by which Citizens Alliance purchased a Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator and other high-end vehicles.

On the same day, funds would move from a Vanguard account that held $1 million from Peco to a Citizens Alliance entity called CA Holdings to another entity called Eastern Leasing to the car dealer.

The nonprofit purchased 13 vehicles, worth $387,000, from 1993 to 2005, Nichilo said. They were at least sometimes used by Fumo, his family, a senate consultant and others, government witness said.

On cross-examination Thursday, defense lawyer Ralph Jacobs suggested that the vehicle expenses averaged only about $30,000 a year and provided tax deductions for depreciation. Jacobs continues his questioning of the agent when the trial resumes on Monday.

Fumo, who is twice-divorced, is a lawyer who also ran his family's bank, Pennsylvania Savings Bank. He beat two previous indictments early in his political career.

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