The sorrow and the self-pity: Fumo lashes out in e-mails from prison

Posted: October 30, 2011

For some inmates, prison is transformative. Behind bars, they become remorseful, newly humble, introspective.

Vince Fumo is not that inmate.

From the federal prison camp in Ashland, Ky., the former Democratic powerhouse has been sending out e-mails full of rage, self-justification, and promises to settle scores.

In short, vintage Vince.

In an 86-page court filing Friday, the U.S. Attorney's Office made public a massive cache of Fumo e-mails over the last six months in which he lashed out at the federal prosecutors who pursued him, the jury that convicted him, and the reporters who dug into him.

In the e-mails, Fumo attacks a host of former allies he thinks betrayed him - and dismissed his offenses as "my so-called crime."

"I feel like Caesar and Christ all tied into one with Brutus and Judas both stabbing me in the back," the former Democratic state senator from South Philadelphia wrote in one message.

Fumo calls his 2009 guilty verdict "a travesty of justice." He says the federal jury was "dumb, corrupt and prejudiced."

He says he is still being "hounded forever by evil prosecutors who run amok without any restraint!"

These messages, and text from scores of others, were cited by federal prosecutors to buttress their case that Fumo should be resentenced to at least 15 years - triple his current sentence - for his conviction on fraud, obstruction of justice, and tax charges.

They are the final salvos leading up to a Nov. 9 resentencing hearing in which U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter has been ordered by an appeals court to reconsider the 55-month sentence he gave Fumo two years ago.

Fumo lawyers filed a shorter legal brief later Friday, urging the judge to reimpose the same sentence. They said Fumo, 68, deserved leniency for his age and poor health.

They said Fumo, "despite his faults, was preoccupied to an extraordinary degree with helping others at any scale and never turned a deaf ear or a blind eye to a worthy cause or a person in distress."

The defense's 14-page filing made no mention of the e-mails. Peter Goldberger, one of Fumo's lawyers, said court rules barred them from responding immediately.

In an interview, though, Goldberger said the messages merely restated what Fumo had maintained at trial: that he was innocent.

"We never said he was repentant," Goldberger said.

"He's angry. He's bitter. Sure. He's in prison," he added.

"I don't think this is the first time someone has written to his kid or his fiancee trying to put the best possible face on things, being hopeful about the future instead of admitting that he has been destroyed as the prosecutors would like him to have said."

In their filing, Assistant U.S. Attorneys John J. Pease and Robert A. Zauzmer said they obtained the e-mails this month from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Printed out, the documents take up 12,068 pages and date back to April.

'Shush up !!'

The prosecutors said that Fumo was well aware that his e-mails were not necessarily private. Like all prisoners, the government lawyer said in their filing, Fumo has had to click "I agree" to the statement "I have no expectation of privacy" each time he logs on to the prison e-mail system.

Nonetheless, Fumo kept hitting the Send button on frank and invective-filled e-mails, despite a worried drumbeat of warnings from his lawyers and his fiancee to stop. The latter, Carolyn Zinni, told him once, "Shush up !! PLEASE."

The "explosive trove" of e-mails, the prosecutors said, "confirms an uncomfortable but inescapable truth" - that the positive portrait painted by Fumo's lawyers "bears no relation to the actual person."

In fact, they said, the e-mails show him to be "unchanged, convinced that he committed no crime, wholly unrepentant, virulently hostile towards the prosecutors and all other law enforcement officials."

In August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ordered Buckwalter to resentence Fumo. It said the judge had made numerous legal mistakes in arriving at the 55-month sentence.

Once one of the most powerful Democrats in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, Fumo was found guilty on every count he faced. His crimes cost taxpayers and others $4 million.

'Sen. R2D2'

He was convicted of defrauding the state Senate by handing out no-work contracts, of wildly overpaying his staff while it did personal and partisan tasks for him, and of using taxpayer money to dig up political and personal dirt.

Fumo also siphoned off money and staff time worth hundreds of thousands from a South Philadelphia civic organization.

He illegally took a total of $115,000 in free vacations year after year on yachts that belonged to the city's Independence Seaport Museum.

In large part, the two filings Friday revisited old arguments about Fumo's sentence. What was striking was the e-mails.

During his three decades in office, Fumo was known by his fellow lawmakers as "Sen. R2D2" because of his fascination with technology. During Fumo's trial, a witness testified the senator would e-mail someone even if the recipient was in the next room.

Fumo has been able to keep at it in prison.

In Ashland, Fumo wrote delightedly in one message, he had access to terminals to send e-mails 16 hours a day.

Under federal policy, there are procedures under which defense lawyers and inmates can talk free of monitoring by telephone or exchange letters that the government may not read. But e-mail is always subject to monitoring.

In the messages cited Friday, Fumo consistently downplayed the crimes at issue. In one he wrote that they boiled down to sending a Senate staffer to pick up his laundry and getting "some tools" from the civic group "and a few boat rides from the museum."

In another message, he wrote that "because of who I was and the jealousies that swirl around my success and power, I was targeted."

"In the end, I got convicted of technical b- s-. But the press started a feeding frenzy that still has not subsided."

In the e-mails, Fumo vents against numerous targets, notably including his codefendant, Ruth Arnao, a former aide convicted with him.

"I trusted Ruth and the others to do the right thing and found that they created a disaster of petty theft. But I was the one with the image of being the 'Brains of the Outfit' so I was an easy scapegoat," Fumo wrote.

Arnao has expressed remorse for her crimes and served a year in prison. She, too, is facing a resentencing hearing. Her lawyer, Patrick Egan, said that Fumo's accusations were "clearly untrue" and mean-spirited.

"This just shows the difference between them," Egan said. "She is just a peon who was led to slaughter."

Fumo also ripped into City Councilman James Kenney, who once served as Fumo's chief of staff but who is no longer an ally.

"He is an ungrateful, disloyal piece of s- that I made from nothing and he will be nothing again by the time I am done with him!!!" Fumo wrote.

Kenney declined to respond later Friday.

While bitter at others, Fumo has pity for himself. In a May 28 e-mail, the prosecutors said, Fumo compared "himself to Jews in concentration camps, prisoners at Guantanamo, and the Mubarak family on trial in Egypt."

Throughout, Fumo directs anger at The Inquirer, saying: "They put me here and are still trying to keep me here longer. They absolutely HATE me. Its amazing!!"

The government filing also reveals that Fumo had been working with free-lance journalist Ralph Cipriano to tell his story.

The pair said their book might be called The Senator: Vince Fumo, the most effective legislator in America and how he was undone by a bankrupt newspaper and an overzealous prosecution.

Drug test

In the filing, prosecutors also argue that Fumo tried to "trick the Bureau of Prisons into an early release" by making up a drug problem to qualify for an in-prison rehab.

Had Fumo been accepted into such a program - officials turned down his request - he could have had up to a year trimmed from his time.

Shortly before Fumo was imprisoned, a Fumo drug counselor had said he was addicted to Xanax and needed two months to detox.

Yet, prosecutors said Friday, when Fumo arrived at the Kentucky prison, a blood test found him free of drugs.

Goldberger said the government's suspicions were "completely false."

"He didn't have drugs in his system because we saw to it that he went into a medical facility to protect his health," Goldberger said.

Goldberger was joined on the defense team by Philadelphia lawyer Dennis Cogan and appeals expert Samuel Buffone, of Washington.

Last month, the Fumo lawyers asked that their client be spared the arduous travel that federal inmates often face to get to hearings. The defense asked that he be allowed to take part in the resentencing via a video hookup from prison. Buckwalter rejected that.

Weeks before the resentencing hearing, prison officials had already put Fumo on the road.

According to prison system officials, his circuitous journey began Oct. 20 when he was shipped out of the Kentucky camp to the federal prison in Atlanta.

From there, he arrived Wednesday at a federal detention center in Brooklyn, presumably to await the hearing in Philadelphia next month.


Contact staff writer Craig R. McCoy at 215-854-4821 or cmccoy@phillynews.com.

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