- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Vincent Fumo, once one of the most powerful figures in Pennsylvania politics, was convicted Monday of more than 130 counts of corruption for schemes that defrauded the state Senate and others of more than $3.5 million and helped pay for his lavish lifestyle.

The 65-year-old former state senator was found guilty of all 137 counts against him, which also included obstruction of justice for destroying e-mail evidence.

The jury deliberated about the Philadelphia Democrat’s fate for about six days after a five-month trial that was nearly derailed at the last minute by a juror who made postings about the case to Twitter and Facebook.

Prosecutors are expected to seek a sentence of more than 10 years under federal guidelines, based on the size of the fraud, the obstruction conviction and other factors.

After the verdict was read, Fumo hugged his distraught college-age daughter and his girlfriend before leaving the courtroom.

“Just heartbroken,” Fumo said when asked about the verdict as he left the courthouse. His lawyer, Dennis Cogan, said he was disappointed but would appeal.

U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter set bail at $2 million, to be secured with Fumo’s properties, including mansions in Philadelphia and Florida, a central Pennsylvania farm, and a New Jersey beach house. Prosecutors had argued that bail should be revoked, saying Fumo made more than $10 million a few years ago from the sale of his family bank.

“I don’t know where that money is. It could be sitting in a bank somewhere overseas,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pease.

Fumo has until Wednesday to post bail.

Former Fumo aide Ruth Arnao was found guilty of all 45 counts against her, including defrauding Citizens’ Alliance, a nonprofit.

Fumo testified in his defense for six days, comparing some of his excesses to spitting on the sidewalk.

The showdown with prosecutors capped a long trial that detailed the enviable lifestyle Fumo lived. Prosecutors charged that the already wealthy Fumo misspent more than $2 million of senate resources and another $1.5 million from the Citizens’ Alliance for Better Neighborhoods and the Independence Seaport Museum.

Arnao, a former aide who ran Citizens’ Alliance, is married to Fumo’s friend, and with her husband enjoyed free yacht trips with Fumo on a museum-owned vessel.

A string of Senate employees testified during the trial that they ran Fumo’s farm, handled his finances, oversaw renovations at his mansion, prepared campaign material and even spied on an ex-lover, often during work days.

Fumo argued that no Senate rules defined a work day as daytime hours. He repeated the central defense argument that his employees toiled day and night for the government _ and did other work for him on their own time.

Prosecutors said Fumo plundered the resources of Citizens’ Alliance after persuading Peco Energy, a utility regulated by the state, to give the group $17 million. Fumo admitted only that he “borrowed” tools and equipment worth a fraction of that amount, or accepted a modest of perks in exchange for his time. He had started the nonprofit and called it “my nonprofit, my entity, my baby.”

They say he also systematically destroyed e-mail evidence during the long FBI probe, the basis for obstruction charges.

A multimillionaire banker and lawyer, Fumo was the longtime ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. He left the Senate last year after 30 years in office to defend the criminal case. He beat two previous indictments early in his 30-year political career.

Monday’s verdict came shortly after the judge ruled that a juror could remain on the panel despite his posts about the case on Facebook and Twitter.

The juror told the judge in a closed-door hearing early in the day that none of his online “friends” had commented back to him about the Fumo case. The juror said the posts were his way of talking to himself and expressing his emotions, and were not intended to communicate anything to others, according to defense lawyer Peter Goldberger, who attended the session.

The defense believes the posts “tainted” the jury and said it plans to raise the issue on appeal.

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