State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo has resigned from the board of the Independence Seaport Museum, saying he is innocent of charges of defrauding the Philadelphia museum out of more than $100,000 in luxury yacht trips for himself, family members and friends.
He has also taken a leave from working as a lawyer with Dilworth Paxson L.L.P. in Philadelphia, according to a spokesman for the law firm. Fumo has served as "of counsel" to Dilworth Paxson since 1993.
In a letter to the museum, Fumo wrote that he was stepping down because he did not want the charges against him to hinder future success at the museum at Penn's Landing.
"As you know, certain allegations have been made by a federal grand jury regarding my conduct," he wrote the museum Monday. ". . . Though, I emphatically deny that I have done anything wrong during my tenure, I fear that in light of those allegations, my continued participation . . . may only detract from that success."
The resignation is the latest in a series of moves by the Philadelphia Democrat to shed some of his many roles as he fights the 139 federal fraud and obstruction-of-justice counts against him.
In his letter, Fumo said that for "more than 10 years, I have dedicated myself to the preservation, growth and continued success of the Independence Seaport Museum, and its continued success is of paramount importance to me."
With only one break, Fumo has served on the museum board since 1993.
Since he joined the board, the museum has received more than $6.5 million in government assistance, at least $2.5 million of which came from state grants, most of them believed to come at Fumo's urging.
M. Walter D'Alessio, the museum's previous board chairman, has called Fumo the museum's "largest single contributor of public funds."
The current chairman, Peter McCausland, said yesterday: "I have no doubt the senator has attempted to help the museum over the years. On the other hand, I think the senator's resignation is appropriate given the circumstances."
In announcing Fumo's indictment last week, U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan described the Independence Seaport Museum as a victim of what he called Fumo's efforts to spend "other people's money."
Every summer between 1996 and 2003, Fumo arranged to cruise on yachts owned by the museum during his vacations in Martha's Vineyard, according to the indictment.
The museum had agreed to allow Fumo free use of the wooden yachts, first the Principia and then the Enticer, with the understanding that, as a director, Fumo was taking the trips as fund-raising missions on the museum's behalf.
"However, Fumo's use of the yachts during his August vacations was in fact for his personal pleasure alone, and he never intended to and did not engage in any development efforts during these cruises," according to the indictment.
The indictment also alleges that, by allowing Fumo to use the yachts for free, the museum could not book charters, costing it revenue.
In 2001, while the Enticer was undergoing repairs, Fumo had the museum rent him another yacht for his summer vacation - at a cost of $13,375. Fumo paid this sum, but not until more than 21/2 years later, after The Inquirer published an article about his use of the yachts, the indictment said.
It also said Fumo hosted a dinner cruise with 13 guests on the Enticer near Fisher Island, Fla., in February 2000. The alleged cost to the museum: $5,250, including $2,540 for a "lavish French meal."
One summer, the indictment said, Fumo socialized in Martha's Vineyard with the museum's then-director, John S. Carter. Carter was the main proponent of the museum's investment in a pair of luxury yachts - investments that lost the museum more than $3 million.
Under the new director, McCausland, the museum got out of the cruise business, selling its last yacht last year. The museum also fired Carter.
Last month, it filed a lawsuit accusing Carter of defrauding the museum of $2.4 million to pay for a "lavish lifestyle."
The FBI is investigating Carter. His lawyer has said that he expected Carter to face charges and that he would likely plead guilty to tax crimes and theft charges.
On the eve of his Feb. 6 indictment, Fumo, from the floor of the state Senate, said he had done nothing illegal and would vigorously fight the allegations. Until he is vindicated, he said, he would step down - as required by Senate rules - from his leadership post as the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
In the week that followed, Fumo resigned as a member of the Delaware River Port Authority, on which he had served for years. He also relinquished his title as vice chairman of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, though he remains on the student-loan agency's board.