Ex-senator Fumo's punishment draws outrage as too lenient

| Sunday, July 19, 2009

HARRISBURG — At about $14 apiece, the 91 lobster tails Anthony Jones stole from the kitchen of Bally's Atlantic City cost the casino $1,275. The theft cost Jones four years in prison.

When U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter imposed a prison sentence of four years and seven months on former Pennsylvania Sen. Vincent Fumo on Tuesday, it drew immediate comparisons to the time behind bars an Atlantic City Superior Court judge gave Jones, 38, just four days earlier.

For a pervasive corruption scheme that prosecutors claim involved more than $4 million in fraud, Buckwalter gave Fumo, 66, a sharply reduced sentence from the 10 to 15 years prosecutors sought, citing his good works as a Democratic senator from Philadelphia. The judge deviated from federal sentencing guidelines and a probation report that recommended 21 to 27 years.

When Philadelphia news outlets reported Jones' sentence last week, a poster identified only as "Louie45" wrote on a Daily News blog: "this guy should be a state senator in pa. He would have gotten off free and they would have given him the lobsters. This poor guy got 7 months less than the thief FUMO."

"Scorpio27" wrote: "never steal anything small."

The U.S. Attorney's Office intends to seek permission to appeal.

"We're disappointed with the sentence," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pease said.

In court papers filed Friday, prosecutors said: "In opinion articles, letters to the editor, e-mails, blog postings, and a flood of phone calls to our office and, we believe, to this Court, thousands of citizens expressed their dismay at the unduly lenient sentence imposed on Fumo."

A jury in March convicted Fumo of 137 counts, including obstruction of justice for having e-mail evidence destroyed. He pilfered a nonprofit he set up in South Philadelphia. He used taxpayer resources to hire a private investigator to snoop on political enemies and ex-girlfriends. He took free trips on a yacht owned by a nonprofit seaport museum. Senate employees testified that they worked on Fumo's farm near Harrisburg, prepared campaign material and handled his finances.

Fumo's sentence amounts to 12 days per felony. He is to report to prison Aug. 31.

"I just couldn't believe it," said Dwight Claypoole, 62, who farms 400 acres in Worthington in Armstrong County, acknowledging he doesn't know anything about federal sentencing guidelines. "I've seen people (who) rob convenience stores get five years."

Jones, caught smuggling the lobsters in his jacket and backpack by a casino security guard, received four years in prison because he pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony burglary charge and had "an extensive prior record," Atlantic County Assistant Prosecutor Diane Ruberton said. He didn't have a violent past, but had committed theft and drug crimes, she said.

Under New Jersey state sentencing guidelines, Jones "could have been sentenced as high as 10 years," Ruberton said.

Before the sentencing hearing, Buckwalter cut the fraud figure in half to $2.4 million, which helped take years off Fumo's sentence. A threshold for a higher sentence was $2.5 million in economic loss, said former U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan.

Buckwalter ordered Fumo, a multimillionaire, to pay nearly $2.4 million in fines and restitution.

"The judge made a ruling he has yet to explain, saying he found an economic loss less than $2.5 million," said Meehan, who made the decision to indict Fumo.

The final sentencing guideline was 10 years and one month to 12 years and six months, according to Patty Hartman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Meehan, a Republican running for governor, said he believes prosecutors should appeal the sentence.

"Fumo's crimes were far worse" than those of former Philadelphia Treasurer Corey Kemp and former Philadelphia Councilman Rick Mariano, "yet his sentence was dramatically less severe," said Meehan, who prosecuted Kemp and Mariano.

Kemp was the target of influence peddling by the late Ronald A. White, a lawyer and political fixer. Kemp accepted free construction of a deck on his house, Super Bowl tickets and limousine rides. He was convicted of 27 counts for essentially selling his office to White, who acted on behalf of Commerce Bank, and received a 10-year federal prison term.

Kemp's personal gain "paled in comparison to the dollars siphoned by Fumo and his network," Meehan said.

Mariano was sentenced for 18 counts of conspiracy, money laundering, fraud, tax charges and taking $28,000 in bribes, according to the Philadelphia Daily News. He drew a 6 12-year term — nearly two years more than Fumo.

Former Independence Seaport Museum Director John Carter, who provided yacht trips to Martha's Vineyard for Fumo and friends on boats Carter purchased with museum money, pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud and one count of tax evasion. Fumo served on the museum board.

Carter fraudulently obtained ownership of a life insurance policy by forging the signatures of two Seaport Museum board members. He failed to report on his tax returns more than $1.5 million he fraudulently received, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

In 2007, Carter was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

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