Fumo sentence lengthened by six months

Posted: November 10, 2011

Federal prosecutors' campaign to sharply increase the prison sentence of Vincent J. Fumo, the once-powerful, now-disgraced state legislator, ended Thursday with a token increase of six months and a scolding from a judge - for the prosecutors.

Fumo was resentenced to 61 months - just over five years - though the government had sought 15 years.

The prosecutors did win a dramatic increase in Fumo's restitution: He now owes an additional $1.1 million on top of the $2.8 million he has already paid.

In sticking largely to the controversial sentence he imposed in 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter said the prosecutors had overcharged Fumo. Though Fumo was found guilty on 137 criminal counts, Buckwalter said the former senator had engaged in four main schemes: defrauding the state Senate and two nonprofits, and obstructing justice.

The defense team argued that Fumo, 68, deserved a break because of his age, health, legislative effectiveness, and charitable works, and Buckwalter agreed on the latter two points.

Before Buckwalter imposed his new sentence, Fumo took center stage in the courtroom with an hour-long, often rambling statement bemoaning the daily indignities of prison and the lack of contact with his family.

"I am tired. I am depressed. All I want is peace," Fumo said. "It's not Club Fed. It's not an easy thing to do."

Fumo apologized for his ragged appearance, for the ordeal his family has faced, for being "weak" and abusing drugs and alcohol, and for saying "bad things" about his enemies in a trove of angry e-mails from prison. He complained about the $4 million he has spent paying his lawyers.

What he did not apologize for were the acts that led him to stand before Buckwalter in an olive prison jumpsuit.

Buckwalter joked with Fumo at one point when the South Philadelphia native said he had had a hard time getting used to country music in his rural Kentucky prison, but later had sharp words for him.

He called Fumo arrogant, greedy, and less than truthful, and said he lacked "a true sense of remorse" and had a "complete lack of respect for our legal framework."

But Buckwalter said Fumo had been an unusually effective legislator and had presented convincing evidence of charitable work.

As he did in 2009, when he sentenced Fumo to 55 months, Buckwalter noted that the former senator had not been accused of bribery, extortion, or a crime of violence.

Buckwalter also said the prosecution, led by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Pease and Robert Zauzmer, had overstepped Justice Department guidelines by charging Fumo with so many counts.

He contended that "unfairness" had led reporters and the public to exaggerate Fumo's wrongdoing and fueled the widespread complaints over his 2009 sentence.

That brought a sharp retort from U.S. Attorney Zane D. Memeger, who took office after Fumo's conviction.

"There are no second thoughts on the 137 counts," Memeger said during a news conference after the resentencing. There "could have been more."

Further legal action, however, appears unlikely. Though Memeger said prosecutors would review the court record, he also said, "There comes a time when finality is needed."

He acknowledged that prosecutors were disappointed at the new sentence, but also said, "61 months in prison is a long time."

"At the end of the day, we're all going home to our families," Memeger told reporters. "Vince Fumo is not."

Fumo, a Democratic power in Philadelphia and Harrisburg for three decades, was convicted of using his state Senate aides as personal servants and political operatives for more than a decade. He also defrauded a South Philadelphia civic improvement group, Citizens' Alliance, which he funded with state money and $17 million from Peco Energy Co. And he took $135,000 worth of illegal trips on yachts owned or leased by the Independence Seaport Museum on Penn's Landing.

The jury also found that Fumo staged a cover-up to try to thwart the FBI, which included having a computer expert try to wipe hard drives of incriminating e-mails.

Fumo's crimes cost taxpayers and the two nonprofit groups $4 million, the government said.

In court, Pease blasted Fumo, saying he had attacked democracy by illegally building a political machine with taxpayer money.

"He's a thief, utterly dishonest to the core," Pease said.

But Dennis J. Cogan, Fumo's lead defense lawyer, said Fumo had been the victim of a "media circus." He also pointed out that prosecutors had at one point offered Fumo a deal in which he would serve no more than five years in return for a guilty plea, a point that Buckwalter also made.

As the judge delivered the new sentence, Fumo showed little emotion. He was led away in handcuffs shortly afterward and will be returned to a federal prison. His fiancee, Carolyn Zinni, smiled broadly outside the courtroom.

With time off for good behavior, Fumo is now on track to leave prison in early 2014, at age 70. He remains a wealthy man; federal prosecutors said in court he had a net worth of $11.2 million at the time of his conviction.

Though federal advisory guidelines called for a 171/2-year sentence for Fumo, Buckwalter said that did not fit the crimes.

He noted that Corey Kemp, a corrupt former Philadelphia treasurer, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and former City Councilman Rick Mariano to 71/2.

"None of these cases are comparable" to Fumo's, he said, because both Kemp and Mariano faced extortion charges.

Buckwalter said that despite letters demanding a lengthier sentence, he would not respond to "public outrage." He also said the letters calling for a tougher sentence had not include a rationale.

Though Fumo's charitable acts "neither justify nor excuse his crimes," they did justify a variance from the guidelines, Buckwalter said.

The judge said e-mails Fumo wrote from prison gave him pause. The e-mails, released this month by the government, portrayed the politician, who had a mansion on Green Street and political roots in South Philadelphia, as despairing and unrepentant.

In particular, Buckwalter said he was upset that Fumo had lashed out at his jury and called its members "corrupt" and "stupid."

Fumo told Buckwalter he was shocked his e-mails had surfaced in court.

He said he had thought the government was only watching for someone plotting an escape or a crime - not venting.

"I never ever would have dreamed that they would have been published," he said.

"Yes, I'm angry. Yes, I'm depressed," he said, adding, "And now to all those people who I may have said bad things about, I apologize."

Fumo was represented at the hearing by local lawyers Cogan and Peter Goldberger and by Samuel Buffone, a post-convictions expert from Washington.

After the resentencing, Cogan praised Buckwalter's handling of the case.

Cogan said Fumo might have emerged with no additional time if it hadn't been for his e-mails.


Contact staff writer Nathan Gorenstein at 215-854-2797 or ngorenstein@philly.com.

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