Fumo sentencing draws a crowd

    Close to 300 supporters packed the courthouse in downtown Philadelphia on Tuesday to witness a hearing that pitted the prosecutors against defense attorneys, each battling to portray their version of the same man.

    Convicted former Pennsylvania state Senator Vincent Fumo is free on bail for the next month before he has to begin serving his 4 and a half year sentence for 137 counts of fraud and obstruction of justice. He’ll also pay about $2 million dollars in restitution and more than $400,000 dollars in fines. Close to 300 supporters packed the courthouse in downtown Philadelphia on Tuesday to witness a hearing that pitted the prosecutors against defense attorneys, each battling to portray their version of the same man.

    [audio: 090715spsentence.mp3]

    The hearing told a tale of two men, on the one side, the crooked politician drunk with power. On the other, a hardworking, effective public servant who stands up for the little guy.

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    Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pease asked the judge to go above the sentencing guidelines, and send a message to current and future politicians.

    Pease: What he did was he stole money he wasnt entitled to take. He only had the opportunity to take it because of his position in the legislature, he took it because he wanted it. He took it and used it in a way he knew he wasn’t permitted to use it for. This is someone who when confronted about it in a criminal trial, tells the jury in the presence of your honor, this is like spitting on the sidewalk. For that reason alone, this sentence has to consider, it has to promote respect for the law. He has none.

    But the federal District Judge Ronald Buckwalter grew increasingly frustrated with Pease’s argument.

    Buckwalter: There are 11 million people in Pennsylvania who are paying attention to what happens here. There are thousands of politicians. Ok I just have to laugh at the 11 million figure, there are probably 9 million people who don’t know what a state senator is, people out in my county don’t even know who Fumo is. Please don’t engage in that hyperbole, I don’t like that!

    Prosecutors argued that just because Fumo was good at his job, and made deals benefiting his constituents, he did not deserve a break on his sentence.

    But Buckwalter seemed more swayed by the views of Fumo supporters, like former federal prosecutor and gay rights advocate Malcolm Lazin.

    Lazin: He is among the most exceptional public official in terms of getting things done. Whether its the sports stadium, whether its the convention center, whether its the fireworks, whatever it is, Vincent Fumo has the remarkable ability to do what others couldn’t possibly begin to think about doing. It is no overstatement whatsoever, to say that there have been few if any public officials who have done more for Philadelphia in terms of our state legislature than Vincent Fumo. He has literally brought billions of dollars and helped all kinds of people. Including those who have been the most marginalized in our society.

    Fumo’s 19-year-old daughter Allie, a sophomore at Penn, spoke through tears, that as a kid, her father worked hard and had no time for her. But now she realizes that he was helping others.

    And Fumo’s recent fiancee, Carolyn Zinni, answered a question on many people’s minds.

    Zinni: Some of my friends have asked why are you heading down a slippery slope when you don’t know what’s happening with Vince. And my answer is I’d rather be with him than 50 years with someone else. It’s been a very real, sincere, and loyal relationship.

    Fumo himself sat between Zinni and his daughter throughout the trial, and in a quiet choking voice, told the judge he never meant to steal.

    Fumo: I can only ask for mercy and compassion. I can only do the best job I did. I think I did a good job, I did give back, because God wanted me to.

    And Judge Buckwalter did give him mercy, less than half of the federal guidelines.

    Buckwalter: Its not murder its not robbery, its not even assault. It’s not the selling of a political office. In fact in this case not one dime went directly to the defendant. Although he did benefit from what he was able to get from the budget of the Senate.

    Prosecutors had little to say outside the courthouse, except that for a man who used his political office to defraud the state Senate and two nonprofits, the four year, seven month sentence did not fit the crime.

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