Ex-Pa. state senator re-sentenced to 61 months

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Posted: Nov 10, 2011 6:35 PM
Ex-Pa. state senator re-sentenced to 61 months

A long-powerful Pennsylvania senator was re-sentenced Thursday to 61 months in prison in a sprawling corruption case, just above the 55-month sentence thrown out by a U.S. appeals court.

The case against Philadelphia Democrat Vincent Fumo went back to the same judge, who accused prosecutors Thursday of abusing their power by overcharging the case. Prosecutors firmly denied the characterization. They had sought a guideline sentence of at least 17 years.

"In spite of the 137 counts, not one involved bribery or honest services fraud," Senior U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter said. "There are considerable differences between his actions and political corruption cases involving graft."

Fumo was convicted of defrauding the state Senate, a South Philadelphia nonprofit and a seaport museum by co-opting their staff and resources from 1991 to 2007. Senate staff renovated his mansion; the nonprofit provided luxury cars and political polling; the museum chartered yachts for vacations to Martha's Vineyard.

Fumo didn't need the money. He made $13 million selling a family bank in 2007, and earned $1 million a year to steer clients to a Philadelphia law firm and another $100,000 a year from the Senate. But his personal ethos, according to trial testimony, was to buy things with "OPM" _ Other People's Money.

Fumo's net worth topped $11 million in 2009, when he was originally sentenced. However, he said he has spent $4 million on defense lawyers and he's paying $3.4 million in restitution.

"I made money. Unfortunately, I made it just in time to pay for this case," said Fumo, whose appearance has gone from dapper to disheveled.

Prison emails show him worried about whether he'll still have money, when he gets out, to fill the tank of a yacht.

The voluminous emails may have cost Fumo the extra six months.

Prison emails are monitored for security purposes. Despite warnings from his lawyers, Fumo rants at prosecutors, reporters, political enemies and anyone who crossed him at his five-month trial. He called the jury "dumb, corrupt and prejudiced."

Buckwalter took offense at that last attack.

"The defendant still seems to have no true sense of remorse, and no sorrow for his crimes. I think his true sense of remorse is for the condition he finds himself in," Buckwalter said.

Fumo talked to the judge for an hour Thursday in what he called a "stream of consciousness" essay. He mostly talked about the indignities of prison, even at the minimum-security camp in Ashland, Ky., where he has spent the past two years.

He said he had been strip-searched repeatedly, put in "the hole," or isolation, and sometimes denied the medicines he takes for anxiety, tremors, heart disease and other ailments.

The defense wanted Buckwalter to keep the original sentence because of Fumo's age and health problems, but the judge denied leniency on those grounds. A prison doctor testified that his health has actually improved in prison, where he's been weaned from some prescription drugs.

Instead, Buckwalter chafed at federal sentencing guidelines for fraud. He complained they're based solely on the dollar amount of the fraud, rather than the broader picture of a defendant's crimes. He cited other political corruption cases across the country where defendants got about four to seven years for their crimes, and found Fumo's case comparable.

Fumo spent three decades in the state Senate, becoming one of the most powerful lawmakers of the past generation before his fall from grace.

Prosecutors call the scope of his crimes "breathtaking," and said the obstruction topped any case prosecuted in eastern Pennsylvania in 30 years. Fumo _ who beat two other indictments early in his political career _ had Senate computer technicians destroy evidence from computers and blackberries to try to thwart the FBI investigation. One of them, sentenced by a different judge, got 30 months despite his guilty plea.

Prosecutors say the prison emails show Fumo preparing to exact revenge when he gets out.

For his part, Fumo told the judge he was not alone in using Senate staff for personal and political chores. He says the practice was commonplace in the Pennsylvania Senate.

"I don't mean to minimize what I did by saying others did it, but, your honor, it was institutionalized," Fumo said.

Fumo still owns five homes: a Philadelphia mansion, two homes at the New Jersey shore, a farm near Harrisburg, and a waterfront estate in Florida.

Prosecutors said they were disappointed by the sentence, and will consider a second appeal. However, they see a need for finality at some point.

"At the end of the day, we are going home to our families tonight, and Vince Fumo is not because of the crimes he engaged in," U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger said. "Neither you nor I would want to spend 61 months in prison."