Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Public Corruption Day!

In honor of William Jefferson and Rod Blagojevich, I declare today to be Public Corruption Day. This new tradition calls for the whimsical recounting of hilarious and sad true tales of public corruption from across the land.

I'll start it off.

From time to time, I've alluded to my old political arch nemesis in Philly, State Senator Vincent Fumo. In many ways, he is the last old style political boss. Representing my district, you just didn't get anything done in the City of Philadelphia without kissing his ring. The man's reputation as a corrupt official was basic public knowledge sort of the way everyone in town knows who the head of the mafia is. His longtime feud with the boss of the IBEW local, my other childhood nemesis, Jonny Doc, is the stuff South Philly legend.

A few years ago, Fumo's lifestyle started to catch up to him. At one point, it was discovered that he had been borrowing yachts from the Seaport Museum to take his girlfriends out on cruises up and down the Delaware. At another point, it came out that his home, a literal castle on a hill, had been underassessed by several million dollars for years. He finally started to really come undone after one of his charities was exposed as a front for a personal slush fund.

Now he's on trial and it's been a pleasure to take in all of the salacious and sensational details. After being victimized by his corruption for my entire life, I do feel a tad bit entitled to celebrate the scandal at this point.

For instance, now we get to take in the testimony of one of Fumo's ex-girlfriends:

Though she insisted that she still loved Fumo, Dorothy Egrie-Wilcox spent 51/2 hours on the stand corroborating previous testimony about his turning government aides into personal servants.

And, at last, Egrie-Wilcox was revealed to be the source of what has become the iconic allegation in the case: the federal charge that Fumo boasted of spending "OPM," or "other people's money."

"He used it quite a bit," she testified. "When we'd go out to dinner, he would say, 'Let's use OPM.' "

To back up her account, prosecutors showed jurors a 2004 e-mail in which the senator himself used the acronym while talking about buying an ornamental globe.

Fumo signed off by writing, "Love You."

Egrie-Wilcox kept hundreds of such e-mails and turned them over to the FBI. Now they are evidence against the once-powerful Democrat.

But my favorite, or least favorite, juicy tidbit came from Fumo's neighbor in the Fairmount neighborhood:

Liza is a female mixed-breed beagle - a 10-year-old cutie owned by Nick Pappas, Fumo's neighbor on Green Street.

But Liza was just a pup when Fumo moved into his overhauled brownstone, the walls of which touch Pappas' home from the second floor up.

Apparently, Liza barked a bit. As Marrone testified in Fumo's corruption trial last week, the indicted state senator claimed that the dog howled through the night, a situation that Marrone was ordered to resolve.

And, as we all know, when the senator, whose staff slogan is "We get s--- done," gives an order - no matter how petty - his toadies pounce on it like the city will implode if they don't.

Marrone said that he spoke with a Fumocrat on City Council as well as a captain in Fairmount's 9th Police District about whether Liza's barking violated nuisance ordinances. The SPCA even got involved.

Fumo got so fed up, Marrone testified, he installed video-recording equipment outside Casa Fumo in an attempt to capture Liza serenading the neighborhood through the night.

Finally, Marrone testified, Fumo suggested putting some poison on a piece of meat and giving it to Liza.

Fumo literally ordered a hit on a dog and wanted his taxpayer funded staffer to do the deed. Pappas claims that his dog Liza is actually quite well-behaved.

As for me, Liza didn't yip once the entire time I visited. She did, though, wag her tail and lap at my hands like they'd been dipped in gravy.

So, I ask Nick, if Liza was always this quiet, what was going on with Fumo?

He launches into a tirade about the disruption that Fumo's home rehab caused, during the long months that the senator spent renovating the once-tumbledown manse into a showplace that now sports a greenhouse, shooting range, roof deck and elevator.

"The workers were here all the time, on my property," says Nick. "They set up their ladders in my yard without asking me.

"Bricks were falling down in my yard. Trash was everywhere. I'd tell them to clean up and they'd say, 'Tell it to the senator.' "

I miss Vince Fumo already and his trial isn't even over yet.

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