Monica Yant Kinney: Fumo screeds should not affect his resentencing

Former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo was sentenced in 2009 after his conviction on corruption charges.
Former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo was sentenced in 2009 after his conviction on corruption charges. (MATT ROURKE / Associated Press)
Posted: November 03, 2011

This pains me to say, but Vince Fumo's prison e-mail screeds should have no bearing on next week's resentencing.

He's loathsome. He's unrepentant.

So what?

Since when do we sentence people for conduct after conviction? Is mouthing off against the law?

Attorneys might argue otherwise, but if fairness is the goal, Fumo's criminally sweet sentence should be reconsidered based solely on all 137 counts of fraud and corruption of which he was found guilty. Reports of the inmate's alleged poor health or acts of grace behind bars should also be irrelevant in determining whether the once-omnipotent state senator spends another 15 years in federal custody.

The fuming Fumo e-mails released with dramatic flair by federal prosecutors seeking to hike that 55-month sentence are entertaining. Equally amusing? The defense's quest to paint Fumo in a charitable light with stories of his running down purse-snatchers and risking his life for a pal during a Tokyo knife fight.

But Judge Ronald Buckwalter shouldn't concern himself with Fumo's plans to write a mean-spirited memoir any more than with whether Steven Seagal stars in the action film FumoWorld.

The defendant was a jerk before, and he remains a jerk. All that matters is whether Fumo serves the correct amount of time for his well-documented crimes.

Winners seek a do-over

United States of America v. Vincent J. Fumo counts as a win for the government, but I understand why prosecutors feel like losers.

They nailed one of the most powerful politicians in Pennsylvania, who faced 20 or more years in prison. But a starstruck Buckwalter, awed by Fumo's supposedly selfless service, sentenced him gently.

"It's not murder. It's not robbery. It's not even assault," the judge said dismissively of the charges at the time. "It's nothing violent. It's not the selling of political office."

The U.S. Attorney's Office sought a do-over. Prosecutors got their wish in August when an appeals panel said the judge lowballed the cost of Fumo's crimes to taxpayers and a nonprofit at $2.5 million when it was really closer to $4 million. Every penny counts in determining incarceration and restitution.

Both sides agree that federal inmate 62033-066 shows no remorse. Prosecutors want to punish Fumo more harshly in part because he soured the public on politicians. The defense mocks such talk.

"As the cases cited by the government itself show," Fumo's lawyers write, "Philadelphia has never lacked for examples of crime in office."

Numbers game

It's not surprising the government wants to keep Fumo behind bars longer. But even his attorneys acknowledge Buckwalter's sentence was unusual in its brevity.

The defense ordered up a statistical analysis of 10,261 federal criminal cases since 1998, hoping to reassure the judge that plenty of other defendants in similar circumstances received far lighter sentences than the guidelines prescribed.

Alas, the a-ha number is so small it's comical: just 34. So maybe Fumo really is unique!

Prosecutors already won the right to force Buckwalter to recalculate the tally of Fumo's fraud, since the appalling amount of Other People's Money spent alone should trigger a stiffer sentence.

But focusing on the pompous and profane e-mail chains seems like piling on. It's as if the government wants to bully Buckwalter into admitting he was naive to fall for the senator's schtick. The strategy is practically . . . Fumoesque.

"They're trying to make it hard on the judge to impose the same sentence," speculated veteran defense attorney Jeff Lindy. The tactic, he added, "might backfire."

Now that would be a shame. Because judging from his prolific pontification, Fumo still has his money and wits about him after two years in prison. If there's anything he deserves, it's more time behind bars to stew and spew about his crimes.


Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 215-854-4670, myant@phillynews.com or @myantkinney on Twitter. Read her blog at philly.com/blinq.

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