Judge Halts Fumo Trial Amid Witness-Fumo E-Mails

A key government witness in former state Sen. Vince Fumo's corruption trial has been e-mailing Fumo and posting blog notes under pseudonyms, prosecutors announced Monday -- a bombshell that brought the three-month trial to a temporary halt.

The development came the very day former Senate computer technician Leonard "Lenny" Luchko was expected on the stand.

Luchko, seen as a fiercely loyal employee of the powerful Philadelphia Democrat, had been expected to tell jurors that Fumo ordered him to destroy years worth of e-mails because of an FBI probe.

The 65-year-old former lawmaker sat stone-faced at the defense table as federal prosecutors said they only learned of Luchko's continued contact with Fumo on Friday.

Fumo is charged with misusing more than $3.5 million from the state Senate, a South Philadelphia charity and a museum. He has pleaded not guilty. The government has only a few witnesses left to call, and the defense is expected to begin its case next week.

Defense lawyer Dennis Cogan said he was in the dark about the Luchko correspondence until Saturday. Both sides asked for time to sift through the documents and reassess their trial strategies. U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter told lawyers to return to court Tuesday afternoon.

The Luchko e-mails and blog posts run to thousands of pages, although it was not clear how many were sent to Fumo. Prosecutors learned of the e-mails late Friday from Luchko's lawyer.

"He (Luchko) has been corresponding by e-mail with the defendants and with witnesses and with other former members of the Fumo staff, both before and after the trial, both before and after his guilty plea," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer said in court.

Luchko also posted comments under several aliases on blogs hosted by Philly.com, the Web site of Philadelphia's two large daily newspapers, Zauzmer said.

Luchko, 52, of Collingdale, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty in August to 29 felonies in the Fumo case -- one count of conspiracy and 28 counts of obstruction. He was expected to testify for a full day or more against his former boss.

His lawyer, James C. Schwartzman, did not return phone and e-mail messages left for comment Monday. A home number listed for Luchko has been disconnected.

The new e-mails may contradict earlier evidence in the case and impeach Luchko's credibility, Cogan said.

"He's a serial e-mailer," Cogan said of Luchko. "If he has a thought, he puts it in an e-mail."

Fumo is accused of using the staff and assets of the Senate, charity and museum to do his personal and political work. Evidence against him includes e-mails written by Luchko in which the Senate technician voiced frustration -- but also devotion -- regarding his round-the-clock responsibilities for Fumo.

Luchko complained that his chores included driving people to get their hair done, wrapping 150 Fumo bobblehead dolls and wiring a yacht for Internet access.

Yet, he wrote, "I love my job and wouldn't trade it for any job in the Senate!"

A year later, he wrote in an e-mail recovered by authorities that the "Boss is driving us ALL nuts with this FBI madness."

Prosecutors are now inclined to leave Luchko off the stand, they said. They could get some, but not all, of his likely testimony from Mark Eister, another computer technician who also pleaded guilty in the case.

Luchko has also been corresponding with Fumo co-defendant Ruth Arnao, a former top aide who later ran the charity, prosecutors said.

Fumo left the Senate in 2008 after 30 years in office. Over the years, he came to control 90 Senate jobs before the charges led him to resign as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. He controlled more jobs through his seats on various corporate and civic boards.

A multimillionaire banker and lawyer, Fumo beat two previous indictments early in his political career. In 1973, authorities dropped vote-fraud charges against him, while a 1980 conviction for his role in an alleged ghost-worker scheme was eventually overturned.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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