Feds: Fumo spent big, always wanted more

February 23, 2009 3:47:00 PM PST
A once-powerful Pennsylvania senator "obliterated" the line between right and wrong when he used his staff for constant personal and political chores over many years, a federal prosecutor said Monday. Former Sen. Vincent Fumo, 65, vastly overpaid his staff for their extra work and blind loyalty - and expected silence once reporters and FBI agents started asking questions in 2003, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer said.

Many former staffers testified during the four-month trial, admitting they kept track of income from their boss's rental properties, oversaw mansion renovations and drove a state vehicle to Martha's Vineyard to meet Fumo's borrowed yacht.

"You're paying them extra out of state money for their loyalty and devotion and their willingness to do extra work," Zauzmer said in closing arguments. "Why did they do it? Perhaps for money, perhaps for proximity to the throne."

The government used 1,300 exhibits and 82 witnesses to try to make its $3.5 million fraud and obstruction case against Fumo, while the defense called 25 witnesses, including Fumo and Gov. Ed Rendell.

Rendell, a rival Philadelphia Democrat, said Fumo worked hard for the state. But he agreed that even successful lawmakers must follow the rules.

"In Fumo World, the same rules that apply to the rest of us, didn't apply," Zauzmer told the mostly female jury. "He did not just cross the line, he obliterated it."

The long-powerful Fumo, who served for 30 years, came to control more than 90 state jobs, including those of his three drivers. Fumo said he personally set his staffers' salaries.

Fumo earned a nearly six-figure state salary and millions more as a banker and lawyer. But no matter how much he earned, he seemed to spend more, as evidenced by his own testimony that a friend gave him $1 million in 2005 to help him settle his second divorce, and e-mails describing his sometimes rocky finances.

"He spent everything that came into his hands, and he always wanted more," said Zauzmer, who said Fumo's power got to his head, and he came to view Senate resources as his own.

Zauzmer is set to resume his closing arguments in the 139-count case Tuesday, and will then be followed by defense lawyers for Fumo and co-defendant Ruth Arnao, a longtime top aide.

During a week on the stand, Fumo said his staff did favors for him on their own time because they were like family. He admitted to some mistakes along the way, allowing a neighborhood charity he founded pay for political polls, cars, expensive power tools and other items. But he considered the expenditures minor - and called the Justice Department probe political.

"I was a target because I was the most prominent Democrat in Pennsylvania," Fumo testified last week.

The South Philadelphia native, who has beaten two previous indictments, retired from the Senate last year to focus on his criminal case. He is also charged with defrauding a seaport museum and the nonprofit Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, which was run by Arnao and received a $17 million gift from Peco Energy during state electricity deregulation talks.

Fumo owned four homes in three states, including his Philadelphia mansion - now for sale for $5.5 million, down from $7 million; a waterfront estate in Florida; a New Jersey shore home; and a sprawling farm near Harrisburg. Instead of hiring workers to help him renovate or run the homes, he used Senate staffers to pay his bills, hire contractors and even wait for a repairman to arrive, prosecutors said.

While vacationing in Florida, he would have his district staff in Philadelphia buy and overnight ship him such mundane household items as hair spray and tea, according to prosecutors who chased down FedEx receipts and e-mails. In just one example, the state paid $54 to FedEx Fumo a few dollars worth of copy paper in 2005, Zauzmer said.

Yet Fumo was quick to trash anyone who testified against him, Zauzmer said. Fumo told jurors that his ex-girlfriend had a drinking problem, a staffer a gambling problem and a third witness a penchant for exaggeration. And he said his estranged daughter - whose husband was a key government witness - had at one point needed counseling.

"This is someone who is looking out for Number One," Zauzmer said. "And everybody else, if necessary, goes under the bus."

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