The Bobblehead Politician

Fumo's lead defense attorney, Richard Sprague. The high-living Pennsylvania state senator faces 139 federal counts, including fraud.
Fumo's lead defense attorney, Richard Sprague. The high-living Pennsylvania state senator faces 139 federal counts, including fraud. (By Matt Rourke -- Associated Press)
By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 24, 2007

If America had a Crooked Pol Hall of Fame, Vincent J. Fumo would deserve a room in it -- a room where the light cast by tiki torches shines off walls swabbed in $100-per-gallon imported Hascolac paint, a room kept clean by government workers wielding 19 Oreck vacuum cleaners, a room that displays Vincent J. Fumo's collection of 150 Vincent J. Fumo bobblehead dolls.

Or maybe not.

Maybe Vincent J. Fumo should not be enshrined in the nonexistent Crooked Pol Hall of Fame. After all, Fumo hasn't been convicted of any of the 139 counts of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice detailed in the amazing 267-page indictment handed up this month by a federal grand jury in Philadelphia. Fumo, who is a Pennsylvania state senator, has not only denied the charges in the indictment, he has also denied several charges that were not in the indictment.

"I am not guilty of these accusations," Fumo, 63, said on the floor of the state Senate on Feb. 5. He also said this: "On the advice of my attorneys I will say nothing more."

Normally, The Washington Post does not cover the legal woes of Pennsylvania state senators, but this indictment is simply too good to pass up. It's a deliciously entertaining document that should be read by every political-science student in America. It's a bizarre account of the adventures of a millionaire pol whose over-the-top greed makes recently convicted ex-congressmen Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney seem like penny-ante pikers. If this indictment is accurate, Vincent J. Fumo is a man driven by a compulsion to get somebody else to pay for everything his heart desires, including the aforementioned tiki torches, gourmet paint, vacuum cleaners and bobblehead dolls.

"Fumo stated to a close confidant his philosophy that a person is best advised to spend 'other people's money,' " the indictment states. "Fumo often referred to this goal by the acronym 'OPM.' "

But don't get the impression that Fumo was completely selfish. That would be wrong. The man had a big heart, and consequently he allegedly used $50,000 of other people's money to provide the good citizens of Bristol, Pa., with a statue of a heroic war dog.

By all accounts, Vincent J. Fumo is a man of wealth, taste and charm. A hotshot Philadelphia lawyer and director of a bank founded by his grandfather, he is the proprietor of four homes -- a 33-room mansion in Philadelphia, a 100-acre Pennsylvania farm, a beach house on the Jersey shore and what the indictment calls "a multi-million dollar oceanfront home" in Florida.

In 1978, Fumo, who is a Democrat, was elected to the state Senate. A skillful pol, he quickly rose to power, becoming head of the Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee, a post that put him in charge of dozens of Senate employees. According to the indictment, he worked them to the bone.

One Senate employee allegedly organized Fumo's fundraisers and paid his personal bills. Another allegedly cleaned his house. Three allegedly drove him around. Several allegedly worked on his farm, mucking stalls and mending fences. Others allegedly drove his dirty shirts to be laundered and fixed his leaky toilets and drove his car to and from Martha's Vineyard every summer while he flew back and forth in a private plane.

Some of these Senate staffers also did actual work for the Senate. Others allegedly did not.

Sometimes, Fumo allegedly saw the need to supplement his Senate staff by hiring outside contractors and, needless to say, paying them with public money. One of these contractors was a private investigator whose duties allegedly included spying on rival politicians and shadowing Fumo's ex-wife and two of his ex-girlfriends and their new boyfriends. Fumo also allegedly assigned the gumshoe to perform surveillance on a political sign to make sure it wasn't stolen -- for 22 state-funded hours.

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