The Betrayal

For 30 years, as Vince Fumo ruled Philadelphia politics, we knew how he operated: You were either on his side or he’d try to destroy you. The behind-the-scenes run-up to his federal trial this month reveals something new: His family works in exactly the same way

IT WAS MARCH 2003, and Vince Fumo should have been happy. He was Vince Fumo, after all, and his life had been an epic, unlikely success. When he was a kid, no one would have singled him out for greatness. He was runty and meek. He got beat up a lot. And yet his transformation from wedgie magnet to the Vince of Darkness, the most feared Democratic politician in the state, was the stuff of local legend and long magazine profiles. He was rich. He was powerful. He owned a 99.9-acre farm where he planned to raise alpacas, whose meat, he had heard, was very profitable.

[sidebar]And now, for the first time, it looked like Vince Fumo might soon be blessed with grandkids. Vince had three children. His 34-year-old son, Vincent E. Fumo II — named after his grandfather — and his eldest daughter, Nicole, 30, were products of his first marriage; Allie, 13, was a product of his second. Vincent II wasn’t married, but Nicole was preparing to tie the knot. She was a lithe brunette — no trace of the jowly, canine features that make Vince look like a bobblehead doll of himself. Her groom was an ex-football player at Penn State and a lawyer who had worked for Vince for almost five years. Christian Marrone was six-foot-three and 270 pounds. He had thick black eyebrows and slicked-back Pat Riley-type hair that was starting to thin a little on top. He was loud, ambitious and ballsy — ballsy enough, anyway, to have walked into Vince’s office to ask Vince for his daughter’s hand. The day it happened, Vince sent an e-mail to Nicole’s mother, Susan Meo:

Christian was just here and has asked for my permission to ask Nicole to marry him. He is already broke from buying her an engagement ring!  … Well, we’ll see where this chapter in life now takes us! I hope to a happier place!

More than once, Vince had told Christian that he considered him to be like a son. And now Christian was marrying his daughter, making it official. There was only one problem, from Vince Fumo’s point of view: He wasn’t invited to the wedding.

Vince has dominated Philadelphia politics for so long that we’ve come to believe we know him. We know his motivational slogan, We get shit done, and his personal credo, Balls and brains, loyalty and leverage, which he has mused may be the title of his memoirs. We know about the power, the money, the pork, and the Tony Soprano-like way he polarizes the political world into two warring camps: people who are with Vince Fumo, and people who need to be driven into the dirt. What we didn’t know, until now — the eve of the second trial in Vince’s career (a 1980 mail-fraud conviction was overturned on appeal a year later) — is that Vince’s personal life operates in much the same way. The Fumos are living a multi-generational tragedy. It’s operatic and sad and often absurdly petty — which is to say, it’s family stuff. Complicated.

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