Oct. 21, 2010 -- Vince Fumo enjoyed a lavish lifestyle during his 30 years in the Pennsylvania State Senate- yacht trips to Martha's Vineyard, $100-a-gallon house paint for his 33-room Philadelphia mansion and senate staffers toiling as his housekeepers.
"Being a Senator is the next best thing to royalty!" he once wrote in an email.
Fumo's spending spree eventually caught up with him. Convicted on 137 federal corruption counts in 2009, he is currently serving a 55-month prison sentence. He is one of more than 80 state legislators across the nation either indicted or convicted on corruption charges in the past five years. His case serves as a worthy introduction to a top ten of badly behaved state lawmakers, whose misdeeds, from the criminal to the merely distasteful, help illustrate why unbecoming conduct has become so common in state capitals. In no particular order:
"Vince Fumo's story is a modern 'All The King's Men,' " said Peter Vaira, an ex-U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Fumo on mail fraud charges in the late 1970s when Fumo was a young political staffer. Fumo's conviction on 15 fraud counts was later tossed by a judge who said the government had not presented sufficient evidence. "At his peak, Fumo was the most powerful politician in Pennsylvania."
Fumo, a Democrat, was for years the ranking minority member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which controls state spending. He wielded his power for his political and personal advantage.
Fumo staffers were forced to toil on the renovation of his 100-acre farm and mail bobble-head dolls in his likeness to the politician's friends. He created a non-profit called Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, and then skimmed from it, according to prosecutors. A Verizon executive testified that Fumo pressured the company to donate $15 million to the non-profit.
Prosecutors said Fumo's skimming helped finance epic personal shopping sprees. He allegedly spent more than $75,000 on tools, another $27,000 on farm equipment, and had heated sidewalks installed at his mansion. Fumo also awarded a $40,000 state contract to a private investigator to tail his ex-girlfriends. Fumo liked to rely on what he termed "OPM" -- an acronym for "other people's money" -- according to the testimony of one of his former girlfriends, Dorothy Egrie-Wilcox. The OPM Fumo spent to finance his indulgences is estimated to have totaled more than $2 million, half of it from his charity and half from state funds.
Fumo maintains that he served the citizens of Pennsylvania admirably during his time in office.
"In retrospect, would I have done it different? Maybe," an emotional Fumo said in a statement at his sentencing. "Could I have done it different? Probably not…I could not have gotten the results I did by sitting there meekly."
Dianne Wilkerson, 55, served for 15 years in the Massachusetts state senate ... until the FBI caught her stuffing a cash bribe into her bra during an undercover sting operation. Wilkerson, a Democrat, accepted a total of $23,500 in exchange for securing a liquor license for a nightclub and for proposing legislation that would help a businessman develop state property. One of the spots Wilkerson took a bribe? The Fill-A-Buster restaurant, a few blocks from the Massachusetts state house. According to the indictment, Wilkerson told the informant that she would withhold raises for liquor board members until they delivered the informant's license. She then pocketed $1,000.
Wilkerson pled guilty to eight counts of attempted extortion in June 2010. Her sentencing was scheduled for September but has been postponed. She faces up to 160 years.
John Ford, a former Tennessee state senator for 30 years and a member of the Ford family Democratic political dynasty, was arrested in 2007 along with other Tennessee state legislators in connection with the FBI's Operation Tennessee Waltz. Federal agents posed as representatives of E-Cycle Management, a fake company that recycled electronics to third-world countries, and offered state legislators money in exchange for supporting legislation that would benefit E-Cycle. Ford, now 68, accepted the largest amount of money, $55,000. He told an undercover agent, "You are talking to the guy that makes the deals."
Ford was convicted of bribery and sentenced to 66 months in prison. He was acquitted on charges of witness intimidation after reportedly telling an undercover agent, "If you're FBI, I will shoot you and kill you." Ford's lawyer argued the statement was taken out of context. Ford also faced additional corruption charges in an unrelated case involving misreporting over $800,000 he received from contractors overseeing the state's medical insurance. After being convicted in association with Operation Tennessee Waltz, he was convicted in the second case as well, earning him an extra 14 years in prison.
Ray Sansom, former Florida Speaker of the House, awaits trial on charges of grand theft and conspiracy. Sansom, 48, served 14 years in the House but lasted only two months as Speaker, resigning the top post in January 2009 right before his fellow Republicans could oust him. He was indicted in April 2009, accused of diverting $6 million in taxpaxer money to fund an airport hangar that would house a campaign donor's corporate jet. The $6 million allegedly came out of the state's education fund because the hangar was to be located at Northwest Florida State College. Sansom had accepted a six-figure job at the school the same day he was sworn in as speaker.
Sansom has since resigned from the House. He has pled not guilty and is awaiting trial. His lawyers rejected a plea deal in July 2010 and filed a motion to remove the State Attorney prosecuting the case. The motion was denied.
Manny Aragon, 63, served in the New Mexico legislature for close to 30 years. Born in one of the poorest areas of the state, Aragon, a Democrat, rose to Senate President Pro Tempore. New Mexico state legislators don't draw a base salary, but Aragon still lived large. His sprawling open-air castle, complete with a bell tower, turrets and spiral staircases, attracted most of Aragon's attention, until he was accused of public corruption. Aragon was allegedly caught plotting with other officials and contractors to defraud the state of $4.4 million by inflating the cost of the construction of a new metro courthouse and skimming the extra money.
Aragon pled guilty in 2008 on charges of fraud and conspiracy. Aragon was sentenced to five and a half years in federal prison in March 2009. All but one of his codefendants pled guilty.
Joe Bruno, 81, survived many political battles in his 31 years in the New York legislature, including 14 as leader of the GOP's senate majority. He was only indicted after he'd retired from elective politics. In 2009, less than a year after resigning from the senate, he was charged with receiving undisclosed gifts of $3.2 million from financial services firms, labor unions and individuals. Bruno had allegedly misidentified these payments as "consulting fees" to avoid reporting them as gifts to the ethics commission. In one case, Bruno was found guilty of disguising a gift by selling the donor a horse the government dubbed "virtually worthless" for $80,000.
Bruno was acquitted on some charges, but convicted on two counts of "honest services" fraud, which is related more to conflicts of interest than to direct bribes or kickbacks. A June 2010 Supreme Court decision limited the scope of the "honest services" law, affecting the convictions in the prominent cases of Conrad Black, Jeffrey Skilling and Joe Bruno. Bruno is out of jail while his case is on appeal.
Jim Black, now 75, served 22 years in the North Carolina General Assembly and tied the record for longest tenure as speaker of the state's lower chamber at nearly eight years. But scandal ended his chance to break the record. When a group of chiropractors offered the Mecklenburg County Democrat $25,000 while their professional organization had legislation pending in the House, Black didn't say no. Black resigned from the state legislature in 2007, one day before pleading guilty to public corruption.
Black was sentenced to five years in federal prison. He was released earlier this month in order to finish his sentence in a halfway house or under house arrest.
Mike Duvall's downfall came during an otherwise dull July 2009 appropriations meeting in the California General Assembly. Duvall launched into a commentary about sex and underwear, not legislation and budgets.
The second-term Republican from Yorba Linda apparently hadn't realized his microphone was still on in the minutes before the televised session was to start. On the recording, Duvall explicitly describes his lover's underwear and penchant for being spanked. At the time, Duvall was married with two children.
Duvall resigned in September 2009. He announced his resignation on his web site, and apologized for his "inappropriate comments."
Utah legislative leaders had a tumultuous 2010. In January, Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. Killpack, a 41-year-old Republican, was driving home from a political fundraiser with a former state representative. He failed a field sobriety test and refused a breathalyzer. Killpack's father had been killed by a drunk driver when Killpack was young, and the state legislator had sponsored a 2009 Senate law that would allow the seizure of vehicles from repeated drunken drivers. Killpack resigned the day after news of his DUI broke.
Two months later, Speaker of the House Kevin Garn, 55, shocked the legislature by admitting he shared a naked dip in a hot tub with a 15-year-old girl more than 25 years earlier. Garn, a Republican, maintained that there was no sexual contact, but he did pay the woman $150,000 to stay quiet about the incident during a 2000 political run. A few days after his confession, Garn resigned from the Utah House.
There are conflicting accounts as to why, one night in December 2008, New York State Senator Hiram Monserrate's girlfriend ended up in the hospital. Prosecutors allege the 43-year-old Bronx Democrat slashed the woman's face with a broken glass after arguing in their apartment and then forced her to a farther-away hospital outside of their neighborhood to avoid being recognized. Monserrate maintained the cut was an accident and that his girlfriend feared facial scarring if she went to the nearby hospital.
An apartment security video from that night was shown during Monserrate's 2009 trial. The video appears to show Monserrate dragging his girlfriend away from a neighbor's door and pushing her out of the apartment building.
Monserrate was convicted on a misdemeanor assault charge, and the New York Senate expelled him in February 2010. Things were quiet for the disgraced politician until he was arrested and indicted this week for mail fraud and conspiracy. The indictment alleges that Monserrate directed City Council funds to a nonprofit in Queens, the Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment or LIBRE, which he then used to help his 2006 senate primary campaign, which was ultimately unsuccessful. Tens of thousands of dollars were allegedly used for a petition drive, voter registration efforts and salaries for employees at the non-profit working on the campaign.
Monserrate pleaded not guilty in federal court and was released on a $500,000 bond. The former executive director of LIBRE pleaded guilty Monday to mail fraud.