Fumo gets less than 5 years in prison

July 15, 2009 5:01:04 AM PDT
A former Pennsylvania lawmaker who prosecutors said became "drunk with power" in his many years in the state Senate was sentenced Tuesday to less than five years in prison, a steep departure down from what the judge was asked to impose for the corruption conviction. Former Sen. Vincent Fumo misappropriated millions from the state and two nonprofits. A jury found he used their coffers to clean his mansion, charter yachts, and spy on an ex-girlfriend and political foes.

"Maybe I should not have asked my staff to do the favors I did," an ashen-faced Fumo said before he was sentenced. "Judge, I never intended to steal. The last thing on my mind was taking money from anybody. I've never done that."

RELATED: Do you agree with the sentence handed down for Vince Fumo? Tell Action News what you think

U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter imposed a sharply reduced sentence from the 15 years prosecutors asked for and the more than 20 years recommended in a probation report. Buckwalter sentenced Fumo to four years and seven months, citing what the judge said was Fumo's extraordinary public service.

Even so, Buckwalter found that Fumo grew accustomed to the perks of office, flagrantly misused taxpayer money and then worked to destroy evidence. He scolded voters for returning him to Harrisburg each term.

"I'm afraid voters may have succumbed to the repugnant adage, 'Our senator may be a crook, but he's our crook,"' Buckwalter said.

The judge also ordered Fumo to pay about $2 million restitution, including $1.3 million to the Senate, plus pay $411,000 in fines.

Fumo is to report to prison on Aug. 31.

Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Levy said the government may appeal the sentence. He said it sends "a mixed message." The public sees Fumo going to prison, but for less time than others sentenced for public corruption in Philadelphia in recent years.

"The question ... is, 'Is that message strong enough, given the size of the violations?"' Levy said.

Fumo, 66, amassed nearly unrivaled power during his 30 years in the Pennsylvania Senate. He is credited with winning utility rate regulation for consumers and shaping the state's casino-gambling law.

Throughout his career, Fumo steered hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds to his native Philadelphia and controlled 90 state jobs and many more through his service on influential civic boards. On top of his Senate salary, Fumo earned $1 million a year to refer clients to a law firm and a few hundred thousand more as chairman of a family bank.

"He didn't need to steal," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pease argued during the proceeding. "He stole because he could, because he was drunk with power."

The defense asked for well below 10 years in prison, citing Fumo's good works and poor health.

Early in his career, Fumo was acquitted of two other indictments. In the current case, federal prosecutors spent years pursuing Fumo and won convictions on all 137 fraud, obstruction and tax counts at a five-month trial that ended in March. Jurors rebuked Fumo afterward for comparing the abuses to "spitting on the sidewalk."

Fumo has spent millions on his defense since 2004 when the FBI raided a South Philadelphia charity he created and funded with $17 million from Peco Energy during deregulation talks with the state. Fumo then used the charity, along with the Senate and a seaport museum, to subsidize an enviable lifestyle that included several vacation homes.

Gov. Ed Rendell, a spying target and sometime rival, called his fellow Democrat "ruthless" but told the judge in a letter that Fumo nonetheless "has a deep sense of social responsibility."

The twice-divorced Fumo is estranged from the oldest of his three children, a daughter whose husband worked for the senator and then became a key government witness.

Arguing against a long prison term, the defense disclosed that Fumo takes 14 medications for everything from heart problems to obsessive-compulsive disorder to insomnia.

Allie Fumo, 19, a University of Pennsylvania student who spoke on her father's behalf, said she now understands why she saw so little of him growing up.

"He may not have been a father to me but he was a father to other people, and I'll share him," she said.

Fiancee Carolyn Zinni, 51, a dress-shop owner, said prosecutors and reporters have raked Fumo over the coals.

"They stripped him of everything: his manhood, his character, his esteem, raking him over the coals, calling him a crook," Zinni said. Co-defendant Ruth Arnao, a former Senate aide, faces sentencing next week on 45 counts. Also, two former state computer technicians pleaded guilty to systematically destroying Fumo e-mails.

TIMELINE: Events leading up to today's sentencing of Vincent Fumo

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