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

Yet there was never a shortage of flag-ensign wannabes, because to serve as the flag ensign was to become, for a time, Fumo’s surrogate son. Fumo’s actual son, Vincent II, had been a serial fuckup in his father’s eyes — a sweet, wild, confused guy in his late 20s, willfully immature. Fumo’s staffers called him “Mini-Vinnie” behind his back. Mini-Vinnie was thin and pale, a computer geek who wasn’t into making money. Vince wanted him to be a lawyer, but the kid kept saying he wanted a career in “video editing,” whatever that meant.

There was a yawning filial void at the heart of FumoWorld. And into this void rumbled Christian. “Christian was sort of the son that Vincent wished he had at the time,” says Jim Kenney. “He was the college grad, law student, football player, young guy to hang with.”

“Sort of the fair-haired child,” agrees Frank DiCicco. “And next thing I knew, he was dating the Senator’s daughter.”

IT WAS VINCE’S doing, actually. He knew that Christian was heading to Temple Law in the fall of 1999, at the same time as Nicole. So Vince asked Christian to keep an eye on her, make sure she was safe. The two of them were dating by October.

Vince seemed to approve, but it was hard to tell. He never quite came out and said it, but Vince’s young male staffers had always gotten the picture: Don’t go there. Everybody knew that Vince and his daughter didn’t get along. Vince wasn’t comfortable with kids. He used to say — joke? — that “children are the worst return on investment known to man.” They baffled him, and he spent most of his hours at work. When the first divorce came, in 1985, Vince and Susan agreed to joint custody of the kids, who were then 15 and 12. For a time, Vincent II and Nicole stayed at a building Vince owned on Spruce Street. According to Susan, the kids were left alone all day in a basement apartment; one of Vince’s staffers brought them food. (Vince declined to talk on the advice of his lawyers.)

Nicole resented Vince for rarely being around. According to her mother, he never apologized for his absentee fatherhood.  Vince, if you believe his friends, would readily admit that he’d failed Nicole. One of his friends shared an e-mail that Vince, the friend says, sent Nicole in September 2000 (Nicole denies ever receiving the e-mail and doubts its authenticity):

Subject: Hi Pretty!
I am on the plane to Paris and I can’t sleep so I thought I would write you! …
I know life has not been easy for you and to whatever extent I have contributed to your unhappiness I am truly sorry. You see, kids don’t come with instruction books, and I don’t know everything about how to raise children. None of us do. But we all try. I was screwed up as a kid myself and that spilled over into adulthood. It took years and years of therapy to try and get me to figure out where I had screwed up my life. …
I want to teach you all that I know about life, love, business and politics! Maybe your kids will do better because of what you and I have been through!
Who knows! All we can do is hope and pray and keep trying. …