Saturday, November 1, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Fumo, again? Really?

Do we really have to face another round of Fumo drama? Isn't one bite of the legal apple enough?

Fumo, again? Really?

I'm not a lawyer nor an advocate for former Democratic South Philly state Sen. Vince Fumo, but there's something bothersome about the government's continued pursuit of the one-time political powerhouse after his trial, sentencing and as he sits in a federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky.

A ruling yesterday by a federal appeals court tossing Fumo's sentence of 4 years, 7 months imposed by U.S. District Senior Judge Ronald Buckwalter in July 2009 sets up the possibility Fumo could face 20 years.

At 68, and given his history of health issues, that easily could mean the rest of his life.

The panel threw the case back to Buckwalter to explain his sentence. He could do so and keep it intact, or he could impose a new, longer term.

There are, without question, a great many who applaud the government's insistence on a harsher sentence and believe Fumo deserves far more jail time than the now-74 year-old Buckwalter originally assigned.

And nearly everyone was surprised at that sentence. Fumo, after all, was convicted on each of 137 fraud and obstruction counts, and Buckwalter hardly brought the profile of a softy to the bench. He's from Lancaster County, one of the most conservative Republican areas in America. He was appointed back in 1989 by GOP President George H.W. Bush.

Fumo, you'll recall, was convicted of defrauding the state Senate, a nonprofit group he established and a museum of millions of dollars and using his government and non-profit staff for personal and political chores, including spying on an ex-girlfriend and getting rid of possibiliy incriminating emails amid rumors of an investigation.

But Buckwalter cited Fumo's "extraordinary" public service, a reference to Fumo's ability to bring millions of dollars to Philly for worthy projects through his power in politics and in the Legislature.

I always wondered why Fumo's jury wasn't sequestered during his five-month trial, especially since it came to light that one juror was commenting on Facebook and another heard, during the trial, about a prior Fumo conviction (later overturned). I also wonder, given the years and expensive the government invested in this case, when is enough enough?

The government had its shot, got its man and he sits in prison. Surely there are other bad actors to go after. Why go through another round of Fumo drama? How is the public served by the heavy-handed pursuit of one disgraced politician already imprisoned.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
Also on Philly.com
Stay Connected