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The real ‘Vince of Darkness’

Book looks at the life and crimes of Vince Fumo

Ralph Cipriano wrote ‘Target: The Senator: A Story About Power and Abuse of Power’ about former state Sen. Vince Fumo. Image | Courtesy of Ralph Cipriano

Mayor Kenney has numerous critics to be sure, but one especially vocal critic is his one-time mentor, former Pennsylvania Sen. Vince Fumo. As Ralph Cipriano reported, Fumo called Kenney, “a liar, hypocrite and pussy.”

“Vince’s animosity toward Kenney, who’s a total failure as mayor, was so great that he actually

challenged Kenney to a street fight right out of ‘Rocky,’” Cipriano said.

I recall interviewing the then-powerful South Philadelphia senator for my column in the South

Philadelphia American back in the 1990s about his legislative efforts to combat crime. In 2009, Fumo was convicted of the crime of obstruction of justice and other federal offenses and served 61 months in prison.

Cipriano is a veteran muckraking reporter who daily takes to task the mayor, the DA, the police commissioner, and the Philadelphia Inquirer in his popular blog, Bigtrial.net, which I read every day. I recently also read Cipriano’s 2017 fascinating book on Fumo, “Target: The Senator: A Story About Power and Abuse of Power.” The story covers Fumo, criminal justice, journalism, and Philadelphia history.

I asked Cipriano why he wrote the book.

“I covered Vince’s trial, which went on for five months, and I thought that the real story of the case had never been told,” Cipriano explained. “Every day of the trial, as well as in the years before and after the case, the Philadelphia Inquirer printed only the prosecution’s side of the story. Also, while the Inquirer’s reporters subsisted on selective leaks, I was the only reporter who gained access to the entire legal archive from the case, more than 7,000 pages of documents that when stacked up, were nearly four feet high. I thought those documents told an amazing story about the feds’ pursuit of one man, a pursuit that began way back in the 1970s.”

Why was Fumo called “The Vince of Darkness?”

“You’d have to ask John Baer, the reporter who coined the phrase,” Cipriano said. “To me, it evokes ‘The Godfather,’ or Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince.’ It was Vince’s alter ego, much like Peter Parker the shy nerd inventing the superhero of Spider-Man after he got bit by that radioactive spider. The real Vince was a shy, skinny, spoiled, only-child rich kid who was coddled by both parents, and was picked on by everybody. The ‘Vince of Darkness’ is a created character, but the myth became reality, certainly in the minds of the reporters, FBI agents and prosecutors who pursued him.”

I asked if Fumo’s good outweighed his bad?

“Yes. Vince was far brighter and more creative and capable than any of the dim bulbs that we have running the city and state right now,” Cipriano said. “The feds investigated this guy for 40 years. They investigated every aspect of his public and private life. And when they failed to turn up any evidence of any real crimes, such as bribes or kickbacks, they turned failure into success by cobbling together a massive, all-inclusive 137-count indictment that basically criminalized politics as usual.

‘Target: The Senator: A Story About Power and Abuse of Power’ covers former state Sen. Vince Fumo, criminal justice, journalism and Philadelphia history. Image | Courtesy of Ralph Cipriano.

“Vince, the ultimate politician, was basically guilty of being a politician. The indictment could have only succeeded if it was broadcast 24-7 by the useful idiots in the press, whose capacity for uncritical thinking continues to amaze me.”

In your view, did he deserve the prison sentence he received?

“The bulk of the petty crimes that the feds convicted Fumo of could have been handled administratively, with fines and censures and the like, but we would have missed out on the government-run morality play sponsored by the feds and the Inquirer. To this day, thanks to the Inquirer, people think that Vince was convicted of extorting Verizon and PECO, which was never even formally charged by the government.”

Why was the Inquirer, a liberal newspaper, so against Fumo?

“It’s a mystery because Fumo himself was not only a liberal Democrat, but also the rare liberal who knew how to get things done. As somebody who’s half-Italian and worked in the Inquirer newsroom for 11 years, the mystery can only be explained by the newspaper’s historic bias and antipathy toward Italian-Americans, whom the paper typically stereotyped as mobsters and gangsters,” Cipriano said. “The Inquirer hated Rizzo, and when he left the stage, they turned Fumo, who himself hated Rizzo, into a combination of Rizzo and Vito Corleone.”

Cipriano said Fumo was happy that the full story was finally told, although some of the personal revelations in the book were painful for him. Cipriano noted that Fumo never ducked a question, but the feds and the Inquirer reporters and editors stonewalled him.

“The real Fumo story turned out to be far more complex, and way more interesting. But I was the only one who went looking for the real story,” Cipriano said.

Paul Davis’ Crime Beat column appears here each week. He can be contacted via pauldavisoncrime.com.

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  • Paul Davis

    Having worked as a crime reporter and columnist in Philadelphia for many years, Paul Davis has covered organized crime, cybercrime, street crime, white collar crime, crime prevention, espionage and terrorism. He can be reached at pauldavisoncrime.com

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