"… a tenacious courtroom fighter with an instinct for the jugular and a keen eye for incongruity."

Philadelphia Magazine

Fumo gets break on prison time

Vincent Fumo's family and supporters spent several minutes yesterday giving the former state senator tearful embraces after a federal judge sentenced him to 55 months in jail, more than five years below the guideline range the judge had set.

With time off for good behavior, the 66-year-old former power broker could be a free man in less than four years.

U.S. Attorney Michael Levy said that the government was "disappointed" by the sentence and that the feds may appeal it.

U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter denied a defense request for Fumo to remain free on bail pending appeal and ordered him to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons on Aug. 31.

Buckwalter said he had to balance Fumo's crimes against a lifetime of work in the state Senate to arrive at an appropriate sentence.

Fumo was also fined $411,000 and ordered to pay restitution of $1.3 million to the Senate and more than $676,000 to the South Philadelphia nonprofit he created, Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods. After his release from prison, he'll serve three years' supervised release. (Fumo's attorney said he handed to the clerk of the court yesterday a check for $1 million toward the restitution.)

Patrick Meehan, who was U.S. Attorney when Fumo was indicted in February 2007 and who was in the courtroom yesterday, said afterward that Fumo's sentence didn't reflect the jury's verdict in March that Fumo had stolen $2 million, abused his office and obstructed a federal investigation.

"I prosecuted [former City Treasurer] Corey Kemp. He's spending 10 years in jail. I prosecuted [former City Councilman] Rick Mariano, he's in for 6.5, all for conduct which, arguably, is significantly less egregious," said Meehan, who is contemplating a run for governor next year. "If I'm a citizen and a taxpayer, I'm asking a question today: Where's the consistency in the justice?"

Mayor Nutter was also surprised by the length of Fumo's sentence but said an "important message" had been sent that politicians who abuse the public trust "will be caught and punished."

Defense attorney Dennis Cogan said Buckwalter "considered everything a good judge should," adding that the sentence was "fair."

A jury convicted Fumo of using Senate staffers and Citizens Alliance resources for his personal and political benefit, and for orchestrating an electronic cover-up to try to thwart an FBI investigation.

Prosecutors had painted Fumo as a corrupt pol who had stolen other people's money.

"He stole because he could. He stole because he was drunk with power," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pease.

Pease sneered at the defense's contention that Fumo should be given leeway based on his 30 years of accomplishments as a state senator, calling it "outrageous."

He said it was "unthinkable" that Fumo should get a sentence of less than 15 years and urged Buckwalter not to "give in" to defense arguments for leniency. "No one is above the law," he said.

Cogan, who had the last word, portrayed Fumo as a complex man who was also an "extraordinary" senator.

Cogan cited a litany of good deeds Fumo performed during his career in the Senate, from using his political juice to get electric rates capped for Peco Energy ratepayers for 10 years to rescuing Philadelphia from insolvency in the early 1990s.

"This is not like any other senator, not like any other senator at all," Cogan said, adding that Fumo was a beaten man who had lost his power and his dignity and who had been "humiliated beyond anyone's wildest imagination."

Then, Fumo, his voice cracking, spoke wistfully about his time in the state Senate.

"I gave my life for my job," adding that he had made "serious errors in judgment" but that he had "never intended" to steal taxpayer money.

Levy said later he thought Fumo's remorse was genuine.

About 200 Fumo friends and family members packed the ceremonial courtroom at the federal courthouse, but there were few elected officials in the audience.

The exceptions were state Sens. Shirley Kitchen and Tina Tartaglione and City Councilman Frank DiCicco.

The most dramatic testimony was offered by Fumo's sobbing daughter Allie, 19, who said she never had the relationship she and her father wanted because of the time he devoted to his job. "Don't take my dad for a long time because he's really the only father I have," she implored the judge.

Fumo also expressed remorse for those swept up in his fraudulent schemes.

Co-defendant Ruth Arnao, former executive director of Citizens Alliance, who was found guilty of 45 counts of conspiracy, fraud, obstruction of justice and related tax offenses, is scheduled to be sentenced July 21.

She potentially faces up to five years behind bars under advisory sentencing guidelines.

Two other defendants in the case, Leonard Luchko and Mark Eister, who assisted Fumo in deleting and wiping e-mails to thwart an FBI investigation, were sentenced to 30 months in prison and four years' probation, respectively, in May.

Eister cooperated with prosecutors and testified against Fumo.

Staff writer Dave Davies contributed to this report.

… a tenacious courtroom fighter with an instinct for the jugular and a keen eye for incongruity.

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