Vince Fumo is headed to prison, but for less than five years. That’s hardly a sentence that will put fear into the corrupt and contented culture that allowed the once-powerful former state senator to dominate Philadelphia politics for decades.
The farce that played out in federal court today will change little once Fumo is in his prison jumpsuit. U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter sentenced Fumo to only 55 months in prison, and went out of his way to criticize The Inquirer for being “mean-spirited” in its criticism of Fumo’s illegal actions.
Fumo was convicted in March of all 137 counts of corruption, conspiracy, and obstruction. His crimes went on for years, and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. But Judge Buckwalter bent over backward to see good where prosecutors saw greed and arrogance.
Earlier, he chopped the federal sentencing guidelines from a maximum of 27 years to 14 years. Then, the judge let yesterday’s sentencing hearing drag on for hours, as Fumo’s legal team detailed how prison life would be bad for their client’s health. Since when is prison supposed to be a Four Seasons stay with medical support from the Mayo Clinic?
To the bitter end, the ever-controlling Fumo worked to game the system. More than 250 of Fumo’s cronies and enablers wrote the judge begging for leniency.
The list of Fumo apologists — which includes Gov. Rendell and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady — reads like a Who’s Who of the Democratic Party machine that has run the city for the last half-century.
Dozens of friends and political acolytes packed the courtroom in support of Fumo, including City Councilman Frank DiCicco, and state Sens. Shirley Kitchen and Tina Tartaglione.
Some Fumo made, and others he controlled. Nearly all benefited in ways big and small from what the hangers-on affectionately referred to as “Fumo World.”
It was a good life for them, and for Fumo, with his Philadelphia mansion, Harrisburg farm, Florida estate, and Jersey Shore house. Throw in free yacht cruises, power tools, and basically whatever Fumo wanted.
No one stood in Fumo’s way, because he was quick to reward friends, and punish enemies. In many ways, that’s how the political omertà in Philadelphia works. Pols and business leaders learn to go along to get along — and get rich.
Just ask David L. Cohen and Arthur Makadon, two respected Philadelphia power lawyers, who seemingly turned a blind eye when the former head of Verizon detailed Fumo’s alleged $50 million shakedown of the telecommunications firm.
In the end, Cohen and Makadon were among the scores of political and business leaders who wrote letters to Judge Buckwalter begging for mercy for Fumo.
Amazingly, the judge seemed moved by the letters, adding during the sentencing hearing that he hadn’t heard from many Fumo detractors.
Never mind that most of the good that Fumo did was financed by taxpayers, and often to benefit Fumo’s power rating.
The losers at this case’s conclusion remain the taxpayers who have had to tolerate, and underwrite, the corruption, waste, and incompetence that in many ways keeps Philadelphia from achieving its full potential.