Ex-Sen. Fumo in court for resentencing hearing

November 9, 2011 12:45:04 PM PST
A long-powerful Pennsylvania senator appeared haggard as he returned from prison Wednesday to be re-sentenced in a sprawling corruption case.

Vincent Fumo, 68, a Philadelphia Democrat, is halfway through a 4?-year prison stint, but faces a much longer term after prosecutors won an appeal to have the sentence re-calculated.

They are seeking a sentence within the 17- to 22-year guideline range. But Fumo hopes to keep his below-guideline sentence because of his medical ailments and advanced age.

Fumo entered the packed courtroom Wednesday sporting a green jumpsuit and a shock of shaggy white hair. He also has a white beard, ashen skin and a slight facial tic. He has been incarcerated at a federal prison in Ashland, Ky.

A wealthy banker and lawyer, he was one of the most powerful political figures of the past generation in Pennsylvania. During a 30-year Senate career, he controlled the Senate Appropriations Committee for a time and authored key legislation.

A jury in 2009 found that he also used his power to defraud the state Senate, a museum and a neighborhood nonprofit of millions. He used Senate staff for endless personal chores, from cleaning his mansion to overseeing its renovations to driving a car to Martha's Vineyard, Mass., as he sailed for free on a museum yacht.

Prosecutors offered testimony Wednesday to suggest the much-debated sentence had further eroded the public's confidence in government.

"The period of time over which it occurred makes it appear that the activity was almost institutionalized," John J. Contino, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission, testified Wednesday. "Democracy's a victim here."

Senior U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter, whose 2009 sentence was overturned by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, could give Fumo the same term but spell out his reasoning. The judge himself asked Contino about rumors he was somehow allied with Fumo.

"Do you have any basis to question the integrity of the proceedings?" Buckwalter asked the state ethics czar.

"No, and I never would," Contino replied.

The bulk of the day's testimony concerned Fumo's medical conditions, and whether it warrants a shorter prison stint.

Fumo suffers from Type 2 diabetes, heart problems, anxiety and other problems.

But a prison doctor said the diabetes and some other conditions have actually improved in prison. He said Fumo had gained 10 pounds, but could do more to exercise and eat better. He also challenged defense statements that Fumo was abusing painkillers, antidepressants and alcohol before he entered prison, and should be eligible for a drug treatment program that could lessen his sentence.

Fumo's blood work when he arrived did not show signs of those drug dependencies, the doctor said. He also said Fumo has been weaned off some of the prescription drugs.

The defense has said it will not call any witnesses, but only make arguments. The case agent, FBI Agent Vicki Humphreys, was the third and perhaps last government witness.

Buckwalter is not expected to issue his sentence until at least Thursday. He has said he does not want to pronounce sentence at the end of a long day of testimony, as he did the first time.

Fumo, in prison emails, has called the approximately 20-year sentence sought by prosecutors "a death sentence."


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