WHEN THE FEDS delivered a hefty 267-page, 139-count indictment against state Sen. Vince Fumo on Feb. 6, they were trying to show they've got the goods on him, a former federal prosecutor said.
But is it really a "slam dunk" case against the to show they've got the goods on him, a former federal prosecutor said.
But is it really a "slam dunk Prince of Philadelphia, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges?
Or are there strategies that Fumo can use to beat the case?
Yes, say defense lawyers and legal experts. This case is winnable for Fumo.
Fumo is charged with defrauding the state Senate and a South Philly charity of more than $2 million by using Senate staffers and charity workers for his personal and political benefit.
His lawyer, Richard A. Sprague, calls the indictment malicious and politically motivated, and says the feds didn't appreciate or understand how Fumo's office operates.
Sprague said he didn't want to tip his hand about how he'll defend Fumo, so the Daily News contacted some prominent defense attorneys to see how they might defend the embattled pol.
Here are some strategies they suggested.
Delay, delay, delay
A prominent criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor said he would do everything he could to keep the case from going to trial.
"I'd use every legal maneuver I could," said Carmen C. Nasuti. "I'd try to get the indictment dismissed, I'd try to get evidence excluded and I'd file as many pretrial motions as I could."
Nasuti said once the trial starts and evidence is admitted, there are "little things" that can't be readily explained or easily defended.
In this case, he said, one of those little things is the allegation that Fumo hired a private eye with state money to snoop on his political rivals and his ex-wife and ex-girlfriends.
The O.J. Simpson defense
The feds investigated Fumo for four years, and Sprague has said prosecutors want to "destroy" Fumo.
Some lawyers said this could be the linchpin of a strategy where the defense tries to paint prosecutors as overzealous or having misplaced enforcement priorities.
Who else gets investigated for four years? And what else could the feds have been investigating if they didn't divert so many resources to "destroy" Fumo?
"This could be just like the O. J. Simpson case where the jury was more interested in sending a message about misconduct in the L.A. Police Department than convicting Simpson of murder," even though the evidence pointed to Simpson's guilt, said attorney Charles A. Peruto Jr.
Even if jurors have evidence of Fumo's guilt, they might "hand it back to him," Peruto said, if they think prosecutors unfairly targeted Fumo.
"Jurors would focus more on the good things Fumo has done, and the people he's helped," Peruto said.
Fumo as his own best defense
Many white-collar defense lawyers don't want their high-profile clients to testify because it's high-risk and could undermine previous gains they've made with jurors.
But Fumo's situation is different, some say.
"My own experience is, if you have an engaging client and you know he has a plausible explanation for conduct the government claims is illegal, then put him on the stand," said Jack Meyerson, a former federal prosecutor who prosecuted Fumo in 1980 on fraud charges.
Fumo, who is smart and charming, testified in his own defense in his 1980 trial.
A jury convicted him and two others in that case, but the convictions were tossed out by a federal judge and his decision was upheld on appeal.
The senator will almost certainly see the jury this time as a small group of voters he can - and must - win over. As he told his fellow senators on Feb. 5, he wasn't just in a fight to save his political career but a fight for "everything that I hold dear."
If that's the case, how can he not tell his story to the jury?
"This case is going to hinge on Fumo's testimony," predicted attorney William Spade, a former city prosecutor who defended ex-city treasurer Corey Kemp in 2005.
"It's his to win or lose because it's all about his character, and jurors are going to want to hear from him. It's not even debatable," Spade said.
Make it about Pat, not Vince
Sprague has said the indictment was "born of political ambition," referring to U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan.
Pundits have speculated that if Meehan bags Fumo, his political upside is sky-high. He would be seen as taking down one of the state's most powerful Democratic pols and cleaning up the city's political cesspool.
"Find an explanation for [the prosecution] which is different from the government's case and try to build on that," said NiaLena Caravasos, a partner in the firm of former Philadelphia District Attorney F. Emmett Fitzpatrick.
Winning high-profile cases can launch political careers, she said.
Caravasos noted that Rudolph Giuliani first made a name for himself when, as Manhattan's U.S. attorney in 1989, he got a 98-count racketeering and securities fraud indictment of then-Wall Street junk bond king Michael Milken.
Milken copped a plea to six lesser charges and served almost two years in prison. And Giuliani? He became a two-term mayor of New York and is now a leading candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008.
Play the politics card
A study by two retired communications professors of federal investigations of more than 300 local officeholders and candidates from 2001 to 2006 by the Bush Justice Department found that 85 percent of the targets were Democrats.
The Justice Department has declined to comment on the study and Meehan has said that politics plays no role in his office's investigations.
More recently, the Bush Justice Department has come under fire for removing the sitting U.S. attorney for Arkansas and replacing him with a former political operative for Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser.
A defense based on the Bush Justice Department's bias would almost certainly hinge on jury selection, several defense lawyers said.
"If there are an equal number of Democrats on the jury panel as Republicans, the defense might be able to take advantage of the anti-Bush administration sentiment out there," said Meyerson.
Fumo is a 24/7 guy
Fumo said during a speech on the Senate floor on Feb. 5 that his staffers "routinely" work at all hours of the day and no public business is ever slighted.
"I have a 24/7 operation," he said.
Defense attorneys said it wouldn't be difficult to find Fumo staffers to testify to this.
"I could see myself putting on a 24/7 defense," said Spade.
It's "not disingenuous" to think that Fumo staffers allegedly doing personal favors for Fumo during regular working hours made up for it by working on their own time.
"People who work hard or who love their boss or job know that you take your work home with you and you work on weekends. Jurors can understand that," Spade said.
Whichever strategy is employed, the case is fraught with potential peril for both the feds and Fumo, Caravasos said.