Monica Yant Kinney | Fumo's defense: Brilliant, flawed

Richard A. Sprague, defense attorney for State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, waves a copy of the indictmentat a news conference. Sprague alleges a White House vendetta against "effective Democrats."

In the interest of fairness, I have been asked by no less a legal legend than Richard Sprague to allow State Sen. Vince Fumo the opportunity to tell his side of the story.

I'm happy to oblige, and not just because the defense is even more entertaining than the allegations in the 267-page federal indictment that paints Fumo as a micromanaging menace who abused his Senate staff with petty personal demands and went on shopping sprees with a charity's credit card.

Not that I could ever afford him, but Sprague is exactly the kind of lawyer I'd call if I happened to be facing 139 counts of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice for allegedly using more than $2 million in public and charitable funding to live la vida loca.

At 81, Sprague remains sharp of mind and clear in conviction. Listening to him lecture for 75 minutes last week, I almost believed he believed the conspiracy theories he was hawking.

You remember the time Hillary Clinton alleged that "a vast right-wing conspiracy" forced her husband to get down and dirty with an intern in the Oval Office as part of the GOP plot to destroy his presidency.

Sprague is similarly convinced of a covert plan by the Bush White House to extinguish Fumo's flame.

How else to explain why the U.S. Attorney's Office, FBI and IRS devoted four years to investigating "the most effective" legislator Philadelphia has ever seen?

Huntin' for Democrats

To be clear, Sprague is not saying Karl Rove and Dick Cheney spend their nights sipping scotch and fretting about Fumo - though surely they would have if they knew what a beloved and "effective" leader he is.

Rather, Fumo's attorney is arguing that, as a rule, Republicans in Washington view the Department of Justice as a weapon to stalk, hunt and slay prey in the other party.

"What I am saying is that they, from on high, do have a policy of using local U.S. attorneys to try to get effective Democrats," Sprague contended.

Of all the effective Democrats in the nation, none is more effective than Vince Fumo.

Sprague proudly recalled how Fumo personally directed $8 billion to Philadelphia in more than two decades in office.

The lawyer got so excited about that figure, he forgot to mention that Fumo also talked Peco and the Delaware River Port Authority into donating a combined $27 million to his favorite charity, the soon-to-be-renamed Citizens' Alliance for (Allegedly) Buying Vince Tiki Torches, Polo Shirts, Bug Zappers, Farm Equipment, and Anything Else He Wants but Doesn't Want to Pay for Himself.

World's best boss

Exhibit A of why Fumo was so effective that the feds targeted him out of sheer fear and jealousy?

The fact that Fumo's taxpayer-funded staff loved him so much, it would do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, for free.

Not that there's anything wrong with having government workers drive a "24/7 senator's" luggage to Martha's Vineyard for vacation.

Presidents are afforded similar consideration, Sprague said, comparing Fumo to his tormentor with the question: Does President Bush "stop being president the minute he leaves the White House?"

What the feds don't get, Sprague said, was that all the petty, personal demands fulfilled by Fumo's Senate staffers had been done as a gift to their god.

"They idolize the fellow they work for," Sprague explained. "I have never seen such a devoted group of people . . . who have a joy of being there and working as a team for a guy they adore."

Spying on ex-girlfriends, delivering decorative candles, untangling flags. Nights, weekends, holidays. Team Fumo gave its own time and dime without complaint - unless you count the catty e-mails the workers sent each other griping about their bossy boss.

And so it went.

U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan called Fumo's emotional Capitol speech last week "good theater." Two days later, Sprague said the same of Meehan's news conference announcing the voluminous charges.

The lawyers may be at war, but both are right. I haven't been this excited about a trial since O.J.

Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 856-779-3914 or Read her recent work at