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.
Fumo's Senate-paid employees sometimes grumbled about their jobs. The indictment quotes an e-mail written by one of the Senate employees in Fumo's Philadelphia office, complaining bitterly that the Senate employees in Fumo's Harrisburg office just didn't understand how hard the Philly staffers worked:
"I would like to see their reaction when they are told to drive cars back from Martha's Vineyard on a Sunday. . . . I would like to see their reaction when they are told to drive people to get their hair done. . . . I would like to see their reaction if they had to wrap 150 VJF bobblehead dolls."
Apparently, the act of writing that e-mail was cathartic because the staffer added this cheery coda: "PS I love my job and wouldn't trade it for any job in the Senate!"
The Pennsylvania Senate was not Fumo's only source of OPM, according to the indictment. In 1991 he founded a nonprofit organization called Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, and over the next decade he allegedly steered over $30 million in state funds and corporate grants to the group. Then, according to the indictment, he used it as his personal piggy bank.
The Citizens' Alliance allegedly paid $250,000 for Fumo's political polls. It allegedly bought a $36,000 Chrysler minivan for Fumo. It also allegedly bought a Jeep Wrangler, a Dodge Caravan, a Lincoln Navigator and a Cadillac Escalade for the use of Fumo and his cronies. Plus a bulldozer for Fumo's farm and $75,000 for various items for Fumo's various homes, including $3,929 worth of "mosquito magnets," $171 worth of tiki torches and, for $6,500, 19 Oreck vacuum cleaners.
Why did Vincent J. Fumo allegedly want 19 vacuum cleaners?
One for each floor of each of his homes, according to the indictment.
Hey, the man might be a dirty pol but he runs a clean house.
In 2000, the Army Corps of Engineers decided to build sand dunes along the coast near Fumo's New Jersey beach house, which allegedly caused the senator to fret that the dunes might spoil his view of the ocean. So he allegedly ordered the Citizens' Alliance to spend $60,000 fighting the dunes project, allegedly with the help of one of Fumo's Senate-paid consultants.
On and on it goes -- far too many alleged purchases to detail here. But no account of Fumo's adventures can fail to mention the saga of the Bristol Township War Dog Memorial.
The mayor of Bristol, Pa., wanted to build a memorial to the heroic dogs of the U.S. military. And Fumo allegedly wanted the mayor to support a Fumo crony for the state Senate, so Fumo allegedly pledged $100,000 for the war-dog memorial. Which allegedly inspired this e-mail conversation between Fumo and an aide:
Fumo: "Isn't that an awful lot for a statue of a DOG?????"
Aide: "Senator, I would agree that this price is a bit high but we did agree to get him the money."
Fumo: "Yes, I remember that but did we agree to $100K?"
Aide: "Senator, yes we agreed to $100K."
After a couple more e-mails Fumo allegedly instructed the aide to have Citizens' Alliance donate $50,000 to the war-dog cause.
"When the memorial was constructed," the indictment states, "a prominent plaque was placed in the front, stating 'A Special Thanks To Our Sponsors,' the first of whom named was 'Senator Vincent J. Fumo.' "
Someday, America may finally get its long-overdue Crooked Pol Hall of Fame, and on that fine day perhaps Vincent J. Fumo will be honored with a room of his own. Until then, his long, distinguished career of public service will be immortalized by a simple plaque on the statue of a heroic war dog in Bristol, Pa.