Dirty politics found in a vacuum?
If the nation had a Crooked Pol Hall of Fame, Vincent J. Fumo could deserve a room in it, a room where the light cast by Tiki torches shines...
The Washington Post
If the nation had a Crooked Pol Hall of Fame, Vincent J. Fumo could deserve a room in it, a room where the light cast by Tiki torches shines off walls swabbed in $100-a-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.
After all, Fumo hasn't been convicted of any of the 139 counts of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice detailed in the 267-page indictment handed up this month by a federal grand jury in Philadelphia. Fumo, a Pennsylvania state senator, has denied the charges 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 legal woes of Pennsylvania state senators might prove too parochial for national consumption, but the indictment is too good to pass up.
It's an account of the adventures of a millionaire politician whose over-the-top greed makes recently convicted ex-congressmen Randy "Duke" Cunningham and Bob Ney seem like pikers.
If the indictment is accurate, Fumo is a man driven by a compulsion to get somebody else to pay for everything his heart desires, including the aforementioned Tiki torches, pricey 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.' "
A Philadelphia lawyer and director of a bank founded by his grandfather, Fumo 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 multimillion-dollar oceanfront home" in Florida.
In 1978, Fumo, a Democrat, was elected to the state Senate. 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. 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, cleaning 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 employees also did work for the Senate. Others allegedly did not.
Sometimes, Fumo allegedly saw the need to supplement his Senate staff by hiring outside contractors and 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. The Pennsylvania Senate was not Fumo's only source of OPM, according to the indictment. In 1991 he founded a nonprofit organization, Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, and over the next decade he allegedly steered more than $30 million in state funds and corporate grants to the group. 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 friends. Plus a bulldozer for Fumo's farm and $75,000 for various items for Fumo's homes, including $3,929 worth of "mosquito magnets," $171 worth of Tiki torches and, for $6,500, 19 Oreck vacuum cleaners.
Why did Fumo allegedly want 19 vacuum cleaners?
One for each floor of each of his homes, according to the indictment.
On and on it goes, too many alleged purchases to detail. 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. Fumo allegedly wanted the mayor to support a Fumo friend for the state Senate, so Fumo allegedly pledged $100,000 for the memorial. Which allegedly inspired this e-mail exchange 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 some 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.' "
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.