Power: Fumo, After the Fall

The most powerful politician in Philadelphia is heading to jail. In an exclusive interview, Vince Fumo talks about the agony of his trial, and why he still doesn’t know what he did that was so wrong.

To back up its indictment, the government presented at trial what one prosecutor described as an “avalanche of evidence” showing that Fumo had abused the power of his office, among other ways by using state employees and contractors to help with the goats and horses on his farm, oversee renovations at his mansion, even spy on his ex-girlfriend. Fumo was also convicted of raiding two nonprofits and helping himself to free bulldozers, power tools and yacht trips, and for not reporting the gifts as income. And he was convicted of obstructing justice by ordering subordinates to delete incriminating e-mails and wipe computers clean.

Still, the guy who got buried under that avalanche retains a sense of humor. One of the charges against Fumo was that he dispatched state workers to transport his monogrammed shirts to the Haverford estate of Dick Sprague, Fumo’s former lawyer, to be laundered and pressed.

“You know who the Governor told me picked up his shirts?” Fumo says with a laugh. “The state police.” (Chuck Ardo, spokesman for Governor Rendell, confirms it’s true. “The Governor doesn’t drive himself, the troopers always drive,” Ardo says. And the troopers “are the ones who run into the dry cleaners on occasion” to pick up the gubernatorial dry cleaning.)

After the prosecution in the Fumo case gave its opening statement at the trial, Fumo says, “You feel like shit, and you’re really depressed.” The five-month ordeal also laid bare Fumo’s dysfunctional family — the son-in-law who hates him, the estranged elder daughter who doesn’t speak to him, and that former girlfriend who’s upset that Fumo was spying on her.

It all took a toll on his health — he had a heart attack six months before the trial, collapsed in the courtroom during the trial itself, and coped with the stress by downing Xanax. The day he was convicted 137 times, found guilty on all charges, was like death.  “You feel like you went to your own funeral,” Fumo says. “It’s very similar. People come over and call.”

Three months after his conviction, Fumo still seems in denial over his fall. “I can’t believe this is happening,” he says. “I never sold my office. I never took a bribe. It doesn’t make any sense. … I never thought it was wrong to ask my secretaries and to ask people to do the things they did, especially on their own time.”  

But in his head, he replays his rocky moments on the witness stand that got him in trouble with jurors and his own lawyers. And every day, he awakes to the reality of jail time.

Vince Fumo observed his 66th birthday on May 8th, a day that began with him reporting to his probation officer. He’s been in therapy for 30 years, and takes medication to cope with a long-standing chemical imbalance and depression. He has a stent in his heart and two titanium rods in his back. He’s lost his job as a state legislator, his pension, and his law license. Now he’s facing the loss of his freedom.