Bad News For Fumo

Another of State Senator Vice Fumo’s former aide’s has agreed to plead guilty and testify against their former boss. Looks like the rats are deserting the ship – with emphasis on the word rat. The has the story:

In another blow to State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, a computer technician who prosecutors said carried out an electronic cover-up for Fumo has agreed to plead guilty and is expected to testify against his former boss.

Leonard P. Luchko, 51, who worked in Fumo’s South Philadelphia office, is scheduled to plead guilty on Monday before a federal judge, according to a document filed yesterday in U.S. District Court.

Luchko and another computer technician are charged with systematically deleting e-mails and other potential evidence from computers used by Fumo and Fumo aides as well as by staffers at a key nonprofit organization that figured in the federal investigation.

The cleansing of the computers was allegedly done at Fumo’s behest and for the sole purpose of thwarting the federal investigation into Fumo’s activities.

Fumo, 65, a Philadelphia Democrat who has been a political powerhouse for decades in Harrisburg, is to stand trial in a sweeping corruption case starting next month.

He is accused of defrauding the state Senate and two nonprofit groups, misusing their employees and money for personal and political advantage. He is also charged with staging a cover-up to obstruct the FBI and IRS investigations.

Luchko is the second new prosecution witness to emerge in the months leading up to the trial before U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn Jr.

In June, political consultant Howard J. Cain, for years one of Fumo’s closest confidants, pleaded guilty to tax evasion and agreed to testify against Fumo.

Another computer aide in Fumo’s office, Donald Wilson, has been cooperating with federal prosecutors since before the indictment. He, too, is on the prosecution’s witness list.

James C. Schwartzman, a longtime friend of Fumo’s who is representing Luchko, did not respond to e-mail or phone messages. Fumo’s lead defense attorney, Dennis J. Cogan, would not comment about Luchko’s decision to plead guilty.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Pease and Robert Zauzmer also declined to comment about the scheduled guilty plea.

Luchko and a second computer technician, Mark C. Eister, were charged with leading an effort to cleanse computers used by Fumo, his staff, and workers at Citizens’ Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, a civic nonprofit organization funded with millions of dollars through Fumo’s efforts. Eister is awaiting trial with Fumo. His lawyer, Brian P. McMonagle, could not be reached for comment.

According to the federal indictment, the effort began in earnest Jan. 25, 2004, after The Inquirer reported that the FBI was investigating Fumo.

“The FBI probe into the Senator has really set him off. . . . He wants all the Blackberries wiped,” Luchko wrote in an e-mail to Eister that evening.

Even as Luchko and Eister worked assiduously to clean others’ computers, they failed to cleanse their own, an oversight exploited by the FBI to obtain copies of hundreds of e-mails.

In those messages to other staffers and Senate contractors, Luchko repeatedly cited demands from “the Boss” that potentially damaging e-mails be deleted.

“Mail from the Boss needs to be deleted!” Luchko wrote to one Senate contractor. “. . . You really have to clean your mailbox up this is the kind of s- that can get us in trouble.”

In another, Luchko boasted about his ability to outwit the FBI, saying investigators could never extract data from a particular Citizens’ Alliance computer.

“Good Luck to them because they are going to need it,” Luchko wrote. “They aren’t getting s- off that PC.”

In the e-mails, Luchko portrayed Fumo as absolutely determined to have the staff’s computer cleansed.

“The Boss is driving us ALL nuts with this FBI madness. . . . Life just got so complicated it isn’t even funny and the killer is I can’t tell anyone about it.”

Now, it appears, Luchko is talking about it, to prosecutors.

Might not look good for Fumo, but I still wouldn’t bet against him. Dude has more than nine lives.



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