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Rendell & Fumo take the stand

February 9, 2009 8:35:09 PM PST
An indicted former state senator took the stand Monday at his four-month-old corruption trial, telling jurors that his partisan political work inevitably overlapped with his work as a state lawmaker and that it was appropriate for state workers to sometimes do his personal chores. Vincent Fumo, who took the stand after the governor, aimed to defend charges that accuse him of deploying state employees and others to do campaign work and his personal chores on work time. Fumo, a longtime Philadelphia power broker, is accused of misusing millions that belonged to the state, a maritime museum and a nonprofit community group to fund a lavish lifestyle.

CLICK HERE for audio of Governor Rendell's testimony.

"Everything in my life is ... intertwined," Fumo testified Monday afternoon. "I never, ever thought in my wildest imagination would someone ask me, did I keep a log (of) when did I talk politically, when did I talk personally. Maybe it's good that I resigned because I would not know how to live under that standard today."

Fumo took the stand after jurors heard from Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who honored a defense subpoena to testify about his fellow Philadelphia Democrat. The two have sometimes been rivals and Fumo, according to a witness, once had Rendell investigated.

Rendell testified that Fumo worked hard for the good of the state, but the governor conceded that even hardworking lawmakers must follow the rules.

"There are no exceptions for effectiveness and no exceptions for people who spend a lot of time on the job. The rules are the rules," Rendell said.

Fumo, 65, appeared pale and tired on the stand, but still drew rapt attention and occasional laughs from the standing room-only courtroom.

"The more power you accumulate, the more you can get done. If you're respected, you can do a lot more than if they never heard from you, in moving the bureaucracy," Fumo said of his approximately 25-year tenure as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Fumo is defending himself against a 139-count fraud and obstruction indictment that accuses him of defrauding Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, the Pennsylvania Senate and Philadelphia's Independence Seaport Museum of more than $3.5 million. Until recently, he was one of the Legislature's most powerful figures.

He was expected to be on the stand for several days.

His testimony brought quick objections from prosecutors, who tried to stifle his attempts to tell jurors about his political accomplishments.

Fumo began by telling jurors about his South Philadelphia childhood, and within minutes worked in references to U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama and Harry Truman.

According to Fumo, Pennsylvania has no written laws that limit how much personal help a staffer can give a senator.

"This is something that's not written. There are no guidelines," said Fumo, who recalled witnesses saying a few errands a month sounded reasonable. "I think it's appropriate to do it as (a lawmaker) sees fit. Some people are more busy than others."

Asked about a Senate employee who allegedly cleaned his homes in Philadelphia and the New Jersey shore on state time, Fumo said she had a gambling problem and cleaned houses to make extra money. He said he paid her out of his own pocket.

Fumo also attacked a one-time protege who became his son-in-law and, after a falling out, a key government witness.

Fumo called son-in-law Christian Marrone ambitious and said he ingratiated himself into the family but had grandiose ideas about how to improve the nonprofit, which was run by Fumo's co-defendant, Ruth Arnao.

"It started out as an interoffice turf war, if you will, between Ruth and Christian," Fumo testified. "I backed Ruth. And that was the beginning of a large intraoffice battle, multiplied to the point that I think Christian no longer wanted to work in the office."

Marrone testified earlier that he spent much of his state time overseeing renovations at Fumo's historic, multimillion-dollar brownstone.

The twice-divorced Fumo was not invited to Marrone's wedding to his daughter Nicole and has never met their children, his only grandchildren. He testified Monday that he has not spoken to Nicole in at least two years.

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