The former president of Verizon Pennsylvania testified Monday that a powerful state lawmaker sought $50 million worth of demands during negotiations with the state over phone-industry deregulation.
The demands included $15 million for a small South Philadelphia charity linked to ex-Sen. Vincent Fumo; $10 million for neighborhood redevelopment in Fumo's district; and $10 million in deposits in Pennsylvania Savings Bank, the Philadelphia Democrat's family bank.
"Naive as I was, I asked (lobbyist Stephen) Wojdak what PSB was," Daniel Whelan, the retired Verizon executive, testified Monday, recalling a hand-scrawled item on the demand list Wojdak discussed on Fumo's behalf. Fumo in the late 1990s was opposing the company's deregulation plan.
Whelan's testimony comes as prosecutors move toward the close of their case in Fumo's 139-count corruption trial. Fumo is not charged with any wrongdoing in the Verizon matter, and his lawyers fought to keep Whelan off the stand.
However, prosecutors prevailed and called him to testify about his meetings with Fumo and Fumo delegates as Verizon sought approval of its plan from the state Public Utility Commission.
Peco Energy had agreed to donate $17 million to Citizen's Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, the neighborhood nonprofit run by Fumo loyalists. The 65-year-old Fumo, a millionaire banker and lawyer, is charged with misusing more than $3.5 million from Citizens Alliance, the state Senate and the Independence Seaport Museum.
Fumo's lawyers suggest that Senate and charity staffers performed personal and political chores for Fumo in their spare time, even though prosecutors say much of the work was done on weekdays.
Whelan said he was leery of the demand list on several grounds -- not least because he knew there were many more lawmakers in the statehouse. When he agreed in a private 2000 meeting with Fumo to a few items on the list -- a scaled-down contribution to the Philly Pops, for instance -- he mostly sealed the deal with a handshake. He did not want the word to get out, for fear that other lawmakers would follow suit.
"I didn't want it to become common knowledge that we had rewarded Sen. Fumo for taking anti-Verizon actions for ... two years," Whelan testified.
When first confronted with the list, Whelan had wondered if it smacked of influence peddling, and debated contacting a criminal lawyer, he said. He ultimately met in 1999 with Philadelphia lawyers David Cohen and Arthur Makadan -- well-connected Democrats -- about the thorny political situation, he said.
They counseled him to "find a way of working it out with the senator," Whelan testified.
Fumo's lawyer, Dennis Cogan, is expected to cross-examine Whelan when the trial resumes Tuesday. Cogan declined comment after Monday's court session.
The government is expected to conclude its case by month's end, after about three months of testimony.
Fumo left office last year after a 30-year career at the state Capitol.