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

“I’m going to destroy DiCicco,” a SugarHouse celebrant remembers Sprague saying. “I’m going to take everything he has.”

It was no joke, apparently. Dick Sprague really would make grown men cry.

AFTER SUGARHOUSE WON a license from the state gaming board and the indictment against Fumo was announced the following February, Sprague and Fumo’s longtime bond quickly began unraveling. Poor Frankie DiCicco, standing hard and fast with residents opposed to building SugarHouse in his Council district on the Delaware, got caught in the wind tunnel:

“Vince would say, ‘He’s driving me nuts, what did you do today, why did you do what you did, because he’s driving me crazy.’ And I said to him, right before my primary election in ’07, ‘You know what, Vince, if I do what Dick Sprague would like me to do, I’ll be unemployed, and he’ll be on his fuckin’ cruise ship in Sweden, or wherever the hell he goes, and I’ll be dealing with community groups in Port Richmond while he’s out there. … He’ll be in Scotland, with his chef, eating a meal, while I’m in Port Richmond getting the shit kicked out of me.

“Vince said, ‘I know! I know! But you have no idea what he does to me.’”

Which was, through the winter and spring of last year, to press his case for his casino. All the SugarHouse legal efforts were coordinated through the law firm of Sprague & Sprague. Sprague would meet with lawyers and strategists in his office downtown; there he’d be, always ensconced in his wooden rocking chair next to his desk before they entered, wrapped in a big-button cardigan — he was always cold, and seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. Sometimes he would just listen, hunched forward, rocking back and forth, back and forth, sometimes just weighing in with a look, answering with his large, round eyes, often demanding more:

We need better PR! Where are the letters in the Inquirer? Are we sending letters in? Where are the letters? If they’re not printing them, I’ll go see Tierney. …

He visited City Council members individually, himself, to make the case for SugarHouse, but that didn’t seem to help. The anti-casino movement was gaining force, which puzzled Sprague. According to a SugarHouse employee, he thought the whole city would welcome casinos, and he thought Casino Free Philadelphia and the other blowhards were funded by Atlantic City casino interests; he considered suing them, to get a look into their books. That March, Sprague represented SugarHouse in Common Pleas Court, fighting a petition by Casino Free to get a City Charter change on the May 15th ballot that would prevent casinos from being built within 1,500 feet of schools, churches, parks, libraries and other public places — and thus make the SugarHouse site untenable. Anne Dicker, the anti-casino activist (who this April ran a weak third in the primary election for the Senate seat Fumo is leaving), got a much-needed lesson in the ways of her town. “It was surreal,” she remembers. “It was the first time I ever witnessed a court proceeding, and the judge treated Sprague as if he was a fellow judge.” Sprague won.