NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered the resentencing of a former Pennsylvania state senator, saying the trial judge erred in his calculations in sentencing of the once powerful former politician.
Former State Senator Vincent Fumo was sentenced to 55 months in a minimum-security federal prison after he was convicted in March 2009 of 137 charges of fraud, tax evasion and obstruction of justice.
The Democrat’s conviction was upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, which ordered the resentencing.
In the opinion, the two-judge majority said U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Buckwalter erred when he calculated the financial loss stemming from Fumo’s fraud, which can affect the term of a sentence.
In an unusual move, prosecutors in May had argued that Fumo should be resentenced to up to 27 years in prison, saying Buckwalter had been too lenient and did not explain why he sentenced Fumo to below federal sentencing guidelines.
”There is nothing in the opinion that indicates that the sentence given by Judge Buckwalter was inappropriate,“ said Samuel Buffone, a lawyer representing Fumo. ”We are discussing our options with our client.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said: “We are pleased with the decision of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and will prepare for the next step in the process.”
In their brief filed with the Court of Appeals, prosecutors had said the sentence was “only a fraction of the terms appropriately advised by the sentencing guidelines.”
The brief also noted that the sentence “set off an unprecedented storm of public outrage throughout Pennsylvania.”
It said Fumo, a wealthy longtime political powerbroker first elected to the senate in 1978, had been driven to acquire even more wealth and often professed to confidants a philosophy that one should only spend “other people’s money” which he referred to as “OPM.”
Fumo’s lawyers had argued that the sentencing judge committed “no significant procedural error” and noted the court had ordered Fumo to pay a fine of $411,000 and more than $2.3 million in restitution.
His attorneys also added that Buckwalter found Fumo had worked hard for the public, warranting a departure from sentencing guidelines.
Fumo had asked the appeals court to order a new trial, saying a juror’s comments about the trial on Facebook had attracted attention and deprived him of a fair trial.
While it did not embrace Fumo’s argument, the appellate panel urged trial court judges to incorporate warnings about using social media into juror instructions, an emerging issue facing the courts.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune