Ex-Fumo Aide Breaks Down on Witness Stand

The longtime senate counsel for ex-Sen. Vincent Fumo broke down on the witness stand Thursday while answering questions about $17 million that PECO Energy gave to a Fumo-linked charity.

The lawyer, Christopher Craig, said Enron, a potential competitor to PECO, asked him whether any side agreements had been made between PECO and Fumo during state deregulation talks in the late 1990s. Craig admitted Thursday that he "sidestepped" the question.

Federal prosecutors charge that Fumo misappropriated more than $1 million from the coffers of the charity, which was run by people loyal to him.

He is charged with using funds from the charity, Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, to buy expensive tools, vacuums, vehicles and other goods, and with using its staff for myriad personal chores. The 139-count indictment charges him with defrauding Citizen Alliance, the state senate and a Philadelphia museum of more than $3.5 million.

Craig said he knew about the gift from PECO to Citizens Alliance but did not disclose it to Enron lawyers.

"I sidestepped their question," Craig said. He said he did not consider the oral agreement between PECO and Fumo to be "legally enforceable," and therefore did not feel compelled to disclose it.

"The fact is that Enron asked for that information every way they could think of, and you didn't give it to them," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pease said.

"I did not want to give it to them, that's correct," Craig replied.

Craig said he had worked feverishly for three years on utility deregulation in hopes consumers would see lower rates. He did not want to see the media focus instead on the charity's funding.

"I was upset that The (Philadelphia) Inquirer was taking years of my work and crapping all over it," Craig testified, growing red-faced and fighting back tears. The newspaper was investigating the charity's funding and its link to Fumo.

"To this day, I see nothing wrong with what I did," Craig said.

A few jurors leaned over to offer him tissues, while U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter called the lunch break to give Craig time "to get himself under control."

Fumo, at the break, went over and put his hand on Craig's shoulder. But it was several minutes before Craig could compose himself and leave the witness stand.

Craig compared the PECO deal to a "he said-she said" agreement that would not hold up in court.

"And that's why we like to have agreements in writing, because it does away with that," Buckwalter interjected later, when the topic was revisited.

Craig said he did not know what Citizens Alliance planned to do with the money.

Craig also testified Thursday that he did not know about another secret deal Fumo allegedly brokered, this one with Verizon Pennsylvania, that gave $1 million a year in legal work to a Philadelphia law firm, Cozen O'Connor.

Craig recently left his post as counsel for the Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee, which Fumo long chaired.

Fumo, 65, left the Senate under indictment last year after holding his seat for 30 years. He has beaten two previous indictments early in his political career.

Fumo's trial is nearing its end after nearly four months. It remains unclear whether Fumo, who has survived two heart attacks and spent two days in the hospital this month after falling ill in court, will testify.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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