Fumo co-defendant Arnao gets 1 year, 1 day

July 21, 2009 5:04:27 PM PDT
A one-time waitress and teenage mother who later became the top aide to a powerful Pennsylvania senator was sentenced Tuesday to a year and a day in prison. Ruth Arnao said she blindly followed former Sen. Vincent Fumo and realized only midway through their five-month trial that she was guilty. A jury convicted her of using a nonprofit the Philadelphia Democrat created to fund their vacations, vehicles and shopping sprees, and of related tax and obstruction charges.

Prosecutors put the fraud at $4 million and plan to appeal both Arnao's sentence and the 55-month term Fumo received last week. They are a fraction of the federal guidelines: Fumo, who was convicted of 137 counts, faced up to 21 to 27 years in prison, and Arnao, convicted of 45 counts, faced up to 10 to 12 years in prison.

Another judge sentenced co-defendant Leonard Luchko, a computer technician who pleaded guilty to 29 obstruction counts for destroying e-mail evidence, to 30 months. That judge called the crimes "egregious."

Arnao, 52, said Tuesday that she met Fumo in 1984 and applied for a Senate job mainly for the state benefits. She said she enjoyed being able to help constituents.

"It made me feel important," Arnao said, her voice shaking.

Senior U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter voiced disgust with Fumo's crimes Tuesday, but refused to bow to the torrent of public criticism over his sentence.

"I wasn't the least bit surprised. I knew it would be a tremendous firestorm of reaction against what I did," said Buckwalter, a former Lancaster County prosecutor appointed to the bench by the first President Bush.

The judge challenged the notion that long prison terms are the only means to achieve justice, and faulted The Philadelphia Inquirer - which uncovered some of Fumo's crimes - for suggesting otherwise.

"The power of the press can be frightening," said Buckwalter, who gave both defendants credit for good deeds.

Buckwalter enjoys broad discretion at sentencing thanks to a 5-4 Supreme Court decision, in a 2005 case known as Booker, that makes federal sentencing guidelines advisory instead of mandatory.

Both Fumo and Arnao are to report to prison on Aug. 31. With time off for good behavior, the 66-year-old Fumo could serve less than four years and Arnao 10 1/2 months.

Prosecutors argued that Arnao adopted the boss' lavish lifestyle, joining Fumo on yacht trips and buying a condominium near his New Jersey shore home. She married Fumo friend Mitchell Rubin, the former state turnpike commissioner, who remains under FBI investigation for $150,000 in alleged no-work contracts Fumo awarded him.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer argued that Fumo and Arnao should get more time than average, not less, because they violated the public trust. They say Fumo misappropriated more than $2.4 million from the Senate and that he and Arnao misused an additional $1.7 million from the South Philadelphia nonprofit, where Fumo had installed Arnao as executive director.

Buckwalter cut the total loss to below $2.5 million and ordered $2 million in restitution.