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November 9, 2011

Old corrupt pol facing new federal sentencing after Third Circuit reasonableness rejection

As discussed in this effective local article, which is headlined "Former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo's resentencing shines spotlight on judge," a high-profile federal resentencing is scheduled for today. Here are some of the particulars:

Former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo is back in Philadelphia to be resentenced Wednesday, but the real focus will be on a 74-year-old federal judge who must wrestle with how to respond to a rebuke from his bosses.

Ordered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to resentence Fumo, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter must now decide whether to give Fumo more time or simply fix his legal errors and reinstate Fumo's hotly debated 55-month sentence.

The defense wants the judge to stand pat. The prosecutors want Buckwalter to impose at least 15 years; Fumo has already served two years and two months.

In an e-mail released Friday by his lawyers, Fumo, now 68, cried out at the prospect of a tripling of his sentence. "That's a death sentence for me," he wrote.  "This is really scary." From his prison camp in Ashland, Ky., Fumo wrote that the uncertainty about his future had been excruciating. "This is EXTRA punishment!" he wrote in a recent e-mail.  "The emotional roller coaster of not knowing is and has been horrible!"...

After a five-month trial that ended in 2009, a jury found Fumo, a Democratic state senator for three decades, guilty on all 137 counts he faced.  Jurors convicted him of defrauding the state Senate by using his aides as personal servants and partisan operatives.  They said he defrauded a South Philadelphia nonprofit organization, then known as Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods.  They said he took luxury yacht cruises and stuck a maritime museum with the bill. And they said he tried to stage a coverup once he learned he was under investigation....

Last month, in the one hearing in the Fumo case after the Third Circuit court's August ruling, Buckwalter, his genial demeanor firmly restored, gave no hint as to what he might do. But he did take steps to dim the spotlight a bit.  In 2009, Buckwalter staged the sentencing in the big ceremonial courtroom on the first floor of the federal courthouse, accommodating a larger crowd that way.  This time around, Buckwalter has announced, the hearing will be in his regular, smaller courtroom on the 17th floor.  The session starts at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

He also told prosecutors and the defense team he might not rule until the next day, giving himself the evening to think through his sentencing and what to say publicly about it.

The problem facing Buckwalter is the yawning gap between 55 months and the recommended sentence under federal guidelines.  Unless the judge cuts Fumo a break for such factors as his age or health, prosecutors and the defense now agree the advisory range would be at least 17½ years behind bars.  The prosecutors' recommendation -- at least 15 years -- is lower than the guideline.

In 2009, Buckwalter had computed the advisory range to be at least 11 years and then imposed less than half that.  But the Third Circuit court told him he failed to properly compute the extent of Fumo's crimes. Prosecutors and defense also now agree that, under the appellate ruling, Fumo's fraud cost taxpayers and two nonprofits about $4 million.

November 9, 2011 at 08:15 AM | Permalink

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