The Feud

After years as the closest of friends, two of Philadelphia’s most brilliant and powerful men, Dick Sprague and Vince Fumo, have turned bitter enemies. A tale of influence, money, accusations of betrayal — and the impact their shattered relationship is having on the rest of us

Fumo has never been in a more vulnerable position. If he’s convicted of the charges against him, he could go away to prison for 10 years. That would ruin everything he’s spent 40 years building. Moreover, those who know Fumo well say the death of his friendship with Sprague has devastated him. As City Councilman Frank DiCicco, one of Fumo’s most loyal acolytes, puts it, “Vincent entrusted him with his life.”

Kill or be killed. More than 50 insiders were interviewed for this story (Fumo and Sprague declined to comment directly), and as they describe it, the current impasse is so simple and strange, it’s mind-boggling. Dick Sprague and Vince Fumo now hate each other. So the man who wrote the legislation to make slots parlors legal in Philly is doing whatever he can to keep them from ever breaking ground — or at least keep one of them from breaking ground.

The coming of casinos is merely the most important new public enterprise facing the city in, oh, several decades, with the prospect of hundreds of millions to help cash-strapped programs and a dramatic shift in the social fabric.

Never mind that — power in Philly is personal, and it rarely seems to be wielded for the public good. The current casino debate isn’t about a changing city. No, it’s really about the pissing match between Dick Sprague and Vince Fumo.

YOU HAVE TO go back to their beginning, in the early ’90s, to understand what happened. For a decade and a half, their connection was strong, and powerful. Maybe what made it work for so long was that Sprague and Fumo needed each other for very different reasons.

By the early ’90s, Dick Sprague had been a legal legend for better than 20 years. He had a notoriously successful record prosecuting murders in the Philly D.A.’s office; had become famous as the special prosecutor in the execution-style killings of United Mine Workers union reform leader Jock Yablonski and his wife and daughter in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1969; had been picked in 1976 to head a new investigation into the murders of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., then was forced off the investigation for having the audacity to try to spend inordinate money and time actually getting to the bottom of the assassinations.