JULY 15, 2009
A prominent Philadelphia lawmaker convicted of more than 100 crimes for stealing millions from the state and a pair of charities got a huge break from the federal judge who slapped him with a laughably mild sentence this week.
Vincent Fumo, a powerful Democrat state senator, was supposed to go to jail for several decades—or a minimum of 11 years—after being found guilty of all 137 counts against him yet he will only serve a little over four years in prison. The sentencing judge, Ronald Buckwalter, ignored a veteran federal probation officer’s report recommending more than 20 years in prison as well as his own sentence calculation of 11 to 14 years. Prosecutors sought 15 years.
Judge Buckwalter, a Republican appointed to the bench in 1989 by George H.W. Bush, insists he issued a sentence that balances Fumo’s crimes with all the good he has done over his lengthy legislative career. In fact, Judge Buckwalter blamed the public for enabling the corrupt senator, scolding citizens for reelecting him during three decades: "I’m afraid voters may have succumbed to the repugnant adage, ‘Our senator may be a crook, but he’s our crook,’" the judge said.
Fumo, the longtime ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, was considered one of the state’s most powerful politicians who over the years steered hundreds of millions of tax dollars to his native Philadelphia, controlled dozens of state jobs, served on influential civic boards and as chairman of a family bank.
He previously beat two federal indictments but this time prosecutors were armed with piles of evidence presented during a five-month trial that culminated with six days of jury deliberations and multiple fraud and obstruction of justice convictions.
The disgraced lawmaker took more than $2 million in Senate resources and another $1.5 million from a nonprofit he established to improve neighborhoods in Philadelphia to help pay for personal items, including a multi million-dollar mansion in downtown Philadelphia, a farm near Harrisburg and vacation homes in the New Jersey shore and Florida waterfront.
An array of Senate staffers testified in the trial that they regularly did personal work for Fumo on taxpayer time, including running his farm, handling his personal finances, overseeing mansion renovations and even spying on his ex-lover.
Last August, one of Fumo’s top aides pleaded guilty to 28 counts of obstruction of justice for following his powerful boss’s orders to destroy incriminating electronic mail sought by federal agents conducting the corruption probe.
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