Legal Ethics

Testimony: Former Pa. Senator Funneled Work to Law Firms

A longtime Pennsylvania senator wielded his power, in part, by pressuring companies to send legal work to certain law firms, including his own, according to testimony yesterday at his federal corruption trial.

Former state senator Vincent Fumo, 65, is charged with defrauding the Citizens’ Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, by getting the nonprofit—for which he sought hefty corporate donations—to purchase personal items for him and renovate his Philadelphia district office, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

But the influential Democrat also pushed Verizon Philadelphia to send legal work to Dilworth Paxson, where he was then counsel, and other law firms, in connection with a proposed $50 million in contributions by Verizon to help settle a legal dispute, according to testimony yesterday in the 11th week of Fumo’s trial.

At one point during the negotiations with Fumo, testified Daniel Whelan, who was then the president of Verizon Pennsylvania, he sought outside legal advice. Whelan said he met in early 2000 with two well-known Philadelphia lawyers because he was concerned that acceding to the then-senator’s requests for money “could be interpreted that we were paying to have an elected official refrain from taking an action” or were “encouraging him to take an action,” the newspaper recounts.

The two told him to work the situation out with Fumo, Whelan testified. And he apparently did: Although Whelan refused to send Verizon legal work to the Dilworth firm and a national law firm, after it disclosed that it planned to split its fee with Fumo, he eventually did agree to retain a law firm at which a Fumo ally was a partner, Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel, according to Whelan’s testimony.

The legal dispute centered on a plan to split up Verizon Pennsylvania into wholesale and retail divisions, which Fumo supported. However, while he resisted any plan that would directly or indirectly provide Fumo with funds, “Whelan finally struck a deal of sorts with Fumo, and regulators later dropped the move to split up his company,” the newspaper writes.

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