Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent J. Fumo on trial for corruption

Daily newspaper accounts of two big trials currently underway in the Philadelphia area have put sociopaths on display for all to see, if only people knew what they were looking at.

In the first trial, Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent J. Fumo, a Democrat who represents Philadelphia, is accused of 139 counts of conspiracy, fraud, obstruction of justice and filing false tax returns. The testimony emanating from the Philadelphia courtroom is far more colorful than those charges sound, and we’ll get to that in a moment.

In the second trial, taking place across the river in Camden, New Jersey, five young men, all foreign-born Muslims who grew up nearby Cherry Hill, are accused of plotting a terrorist attack on United States soil. Prosecutors allege that they planned to kill soldiers at Fort Dix, a military base located only a few miles up the road. I’ll write about the “Fort Dix Five” case next week.

Now, let’s take a look at the prosecution of arguably the most powerful politician in Philadelphia, Vincent J. Fumo.

Fumo indictment

Vincent J. Fumo was first elected to the Pennsylvania state senate in 1978. In 30 years as an elected official, he built a web of power that enabled him to demand political and charitable “donations,” control where the “donations” and many tax dollars were spent, and crush anyone who opposed him.

On February 6, 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice released the 139-count indictment, alleging that Fumo:

  • Defrauded the Pennsylvania State Senate of more than $1 million by using Senate employees and contractors to attend to his personal and political business.
  • Defrauded a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, the Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, of more than $1 million by using its funds for personal and political benefit.
  • Defrauded the Independence Seaport Museum of more than $100,000 by using the museum’s yachts for his personal pleasure cruises.
  • Used senate funds to hire a private investigator to follow his ex-wife and girlfriend on dates, and to dig up dirt on political rivals.
  • Used a senate aide, who was paid $31,000 per year, as his housekeeper in his Philadelphia home. Another aide, paid by the Senate, was responsible for managing the renovation of Fumo’s 33-room mansion.
  • Fumo’s philosophy, according to the indictment, was that “it is best to spend ‘other people’s money,’ which he referred to by the acronym ‘OPM.'”

Plenty of outrageous information is available about Vince Fumo and the case. In fact, Philadelphia reporters are blogging live from the courtroom, while the trial is underway. Read the comprehensive coverage by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Christmas wish list

Witnesses called to testify in the trial include numerous Fumo aides, his estranged daughter, and former girlfriends.

One such girlfriend, Dorothy Egrie-Wilcox, corroborated the “OPM” allegation. “He used it quite a bit,” she testified in court, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “When we’d go out to dinner, he would say, ‘Let’s use OPM.'”

Egrie-Wilcox verified that Fumo used his senate staff to do everything from buying his groceries to dumping his trash. One of their responsibilities was maintaining his Christmas wish list. This was a nine-page list of items, complete with store locations and prices, that was handed to people who felt obliged to buy the senator a Christmas gift. The list included:

  • Antique boxed flintlock dueling pistols, $10,000
  • Cannon, $5,000
  • Krieghoff skeet gun set, $30,000
  • Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso “flip watch” with gold watchband, $12,000
  • Van Staal titanium fishing pliers, $229
  • Waterford crystal champagne flutes, $100
  • Hassablad 503 camera, $4,500
  • Vespa motor scooter, $3,600
  • Brass shoe horn, $29.50
  • LeCreuset 6-Piece set, Sonoma Blue, $379
  • Grundig classic 960 radio, $199

Egrie-Wilcox, who dated Fumo for a stormy five and a half years, said she loved him. Although they broke up in 2004, the woman still said that she thought Fumo was “ethical.”

The real Vince Fumo

An article in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer asks, Who’s the real Vince Fumo? It’s complicated.

The story points out:

  • The senator was grandiose and ruthless.
  • He laid demands on his staff day and night, all of which had to be met IMMEDIATELY.
  • He was a control freak.
  • He was a shopaholic, allegedly paying for goods with OPM.
  • He was paid $1 million a year as a “rainmaker” for a law firm, and had a lucrative salary from his family’s bank, but was financially strapped.
  • In e-mails to his girlfriend, he wrote, “Good night my love! My dove, my beautiful one!!”
  • He also installed spyware on the girlfriend’s computer.
  • When Fumo and the girlfriend broke up, he lashed out about the hurt she inflicted on him.
  • Then he had a private investigator tail her.
  • He was estranged from his daughter, and made sure she lost when she ran for a lowly county supervisor office.
  • He loved the fact that he was above everybody else.

Who is the real Vince Fumo? He’s a sociopath. When you understand the nature of this personality disorder, the senator’s seeming split personality, his tenderness (feigned), his controlling nature, his rages and his vengefulness—all the behaviors mentioned in the article—make perfect sense.

Maybe this time

In 1974, Fumo and three associates were charged in a 44-count indictment for mail fraud. They were accused of helping Fumo’s predecessor in the senate seat, Buddy Cianfrani, add 33 ghost employees to the state payroll. (Cianfrani was convicted of racketeering, bribery and obstruction of justice.) A jury convicted Fumo of 15 counts in 1978—the same year he was first elected senator—but a federal judge overturned the conviction in 1981.

That win probably fed the senator’s sense of invincibility. Maybe this time, he’ll go down.

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