DICK SPRAGUE AND Vince Fumo have been feuding for about a year. These days, Fumo is saying that it’s time to start over — not on their relationship, but on who builds casinos in Philadelphia, and where. It was Fumo who wrote the bill, back in 2004, making casinos legal in Pennsylvania, a bill that ensured, many people believe, his buddy Dick Sprague getting a license to build a slots parlor on Delaware Avenue. Sprague and his fellow investors in the SugarHouse project have been gearing up to break ground there for about two years. But in late April, Fumo announced he was sponsoring new legislation in the State Senate. It would open up the casino site selection process all over again in Philadelphia. Fumo says he’s now been persuaded by anti-casino activists that the two Philadelphia casino locations are flawed, but people who know Fumo well say there’s a different motivation for his flip: He’s determined that Dick Sprague will not get a casino.
It took some doing for Fumo to get to this point with Sprague. Early last year, Fumo was indicted, 139 counts worth, in U.S. federal court on charges of using state money and employees to procure a long list of personal items, and of covering that up.
Dick Sprague was Vince Fumo’s lawyer then. But after the indictment was filed, and the State Senate and campaign donors were no longer allowed to help pay Sprague’s legal fees, Fumo balked at a several-hundred-thousand-dollar bill from Sprague he had to pay himself. Sprague maintains that the problems between them stem directly from that, but Fumo insiders paint a more complicated picture.
Sprague and Fumo have long held the same philosophical view of the nature of the world and their place in it: Kill or be killed. But in the early legal maneuvering with the feds, a lot of people in town thought Sprague’s hyper-aggressive, confrontational style was a bad fit for this case. When Vince Fumo goes to trial in September — a trial that many judicial observers believe could have been avoided — Dick Sprague won’t be his lawyer.
Still, the biggest factor in their fallout may have been the casino that now serves as their battleground. Most of last year, while Sprague was still repping Fumo, he kept pushing hard to start building his casino, kept pushing Fumo to stifle the city’s growing anti-casino movement. Despite the political problems the casino protesters were causing Fumo, Sprague was in Fumo’s ear constantly, demanding Fumo’s help.