Former state Sen. Vincent Fumo was sentenced on Tuesday to 55 months in prison for fraud, obstruction of justice and tax convictions after a federal judge announced that he had decided to depart down from a recommended 10-year prison term because of Fumo's extraordinary public service.
U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter's sentence of less than five years in prison seemed to surprise and even delight some of Fumo's friends and supporters, who had braced themselves in recent weeks for a much stiffer punishment when a probation officer calculated that Fumo's crimes called for a prison term in the range of 21 to 27 years.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pease, who had urged the judge to impose a 15-year term, said he was "disappointed" by the sentence, but would not say whether the government would file any appeal.
Fumo's lawyers asked for bail pending appeal, but Buckwalter flatly refused, saying he sees no grounds for Fumo to win a new trial and that he wants Fumo to surrender to prison on Aug. 31 to begin serving his term.
The sentence, announced at 5:30 p.m. to a packed courtroom, marked the beginning of the end of one of the biggest political corruption prosecutions in Pennsylvania in recent memory.
In the 2006 indictment, Fumo was accused of abusing his power as a senator to fund a lavish lifestyle with "other people's money," or, as the senator allegedly termed it, "OPM."
Specifically, prosecutors said Fumo improperly used many of the workers on his 90-member Senate staff as his personal servants or campaign workers, ignoring ethical rules that specifically call for a separation of legislative and campaign work.
Two of Fumo's staff computer technicians pleaded guilty to charges of obstructing justice by erasing files from dozens of computers when Fumo learned of the FBI probe. And Ruth Arnao, a longtime Fumo aide who stood trial with Fumo for stealing from the Citizens Alliance charity, was convicted on all charges and awaits sentencing.
Buckwalter's opinion of the case has trickled out over the months in remarks the judge made from the bench or written orders, but Tuesday's hearing was the first time that the judge explicitly announced his views.
He started by saying that Fumo's crimes were "not murder" and did not include selling his political office.
But he said Fumo ultimately developed "ethical blind spots" that gave the senator a "sense of entitlement" that led to a "flagrant misuse of taxpayer money for private and political purposes."
In those crimes, Buckwalter said, Fumo demeaned his profession, and then made matters worse by engaging in a cover-up scheme.
But Buckwalter said he was also impressed by the strong outpouring of support from Fumo's constituents and colleagues, who wrote hundreds of letters urging the judge to consider Fumo's lifetime of civic achievements.