Karen Heller: Fumo goes back into his hole, haggard but unchanged

Vincent J. Fumo in 2007. A bearded, ashen Fumo appeared in court Thursday.
Vincent J. Fumo in 2007. A bearded, ashen Fumo appeared in court Thursday. (Associated Press, File)
Posted: November 11, 2011

Six months and $1.1 million.

After almost 18 months of legal review, with prosecutors seeking 15 years in prison, former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo was sentenced to just six additional months by U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter.

The additional half-year appears due not to the government's arguments but to one unbelievably stupid, misguided e-mail Fumo fired off from prison in which he called the jury that convicted him on 137 counts "dumb, corrupt and prejudiced."

With good behavior, Fumo will most likely be released in early 2014.

Bearded, haggard, and ashen, Fumo, 68, no longer resembles the Pennsylvania political titan he was for 30 years as much as an aging roadie with the Allman Brothers Band. Fumo, owner of five homes and once worth $11.2 million, appeared in a shapeless olive prison jumpsuit with rolled-up pants legs, white socks, and blue slip-on sneakers.

The lengthy legal process has robbed him of his dignity and privacy, exposing his psychological problems, pill intake, compulsive shopping, and troubled relationships.

It's evident that prison has changed Fumo and, then again, not.

If critics had hoped for remorse, to witness a repentant Fumo overwhelmed by regret for his crimes and past misdeeds, they were sorely disappointed.

Instead, the former prince of darkness complained about lousy prison food, inferior radio, miserable beds. In e-mails, he wrote of settling scores with people who have crossed him while worrying whether, when he gets out, he will have enough money to gas up the yacht.

Whether Fumo serves 61 months or 15 years, a conversion experience is unlikely.

"I'm a complicated person," he said Thursday in his baritone gravel. "Yes, your honor, at the peak of my power, I was a tough son of a bitch."

Fumo's resentencing, such as it was, raises questions about the nature of justice. Fumo is in poor health, but guilty of fraud, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice. Is it right to sentence Fumo to dying in prison? What purpose is served keeping white-collar, nonviolent criminals behind bars interminably, Bernard Madoff an exception?

Yet, Fumo's sentence is supposed to be a deterrent for him and other politicians contemplating similar abuses of power. Fumo wrote repeatedly of returning to politics as a lobbyist, setting up shop to train a new crop of legislators.

"This is the last person we want to let loose on Harrisburg," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pease argued, "yet this is exactly what he wants to do."

Bob Asher, F. Joseph Loeper, and the late Buddy Cianfrani were all Pennsylvania politicos who served time in prison, only to emerge to wield power anew.

Justice is supposed to be the great leveler. Both times, Buckwalter based his sentencing partially on Fumo's good works and more than 250 letters of support, a marked advantage for a connected person with a greater circle of influence than, say, a plumber.

"I'll never understand Philadelphia politics," said Buckwalter, originally from Lancaster and prone to an aw-shucks manner. "I think our way is better."

Unethical politicians can come from anywhere. Just check the state attorney general's roster of convicted legislators.

And I kept thinking of former City Treasurer Corey Kemp in the slammer for 10 years for Super Bowl tickets, $10,000, and a deck.

The nature of justice is arbitrary, as is the assignment of judges. At one point, Fumo was looking at having his case heard by one of the Eastern District's tougher jurists. But that judge became ill - and Fumo drew Buckwalter.

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

"Quite frankly, I goofed on the guidelines," Buckwalter said. "I wish I didn't."

And then he gave Fumo essentially the very same prison sentence again.


Contact columnist Karen Heller at 215-854-2586, kheller@phillynews.com,

or @kheller on Twitter. Read

her past columns at www.philly.com/KarenHeller

 

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