Friday, May 4, 2018

Harvey Silverglate's Foreword To Target: The Senator

Editor's Note: Harvey A. Silverglate is a criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer, and the author of the 2009 classic, Three Felonies A Day; How the Feds Target the Innocent.

By Harvey A. Silverglate

My criminal defense and civil liberties law practice, spanning half a century, has exposed me to several shockingly broad gaps in American life between appearance and reality. 

No gap, in my experience, has been broader than that between the commonly accepted reputation of federal criminal justice and the sordid realities of how the United States Department of Justice, often with the connivance of the federal judiciary, dispenses justice.

A disproportionate number of federal trial and appellate court judges are former prosecutors, and so there is an uncomfortable amount of symbiosis between the Justice Department and the bench. The number and variety of innocent people railroaded by the system would be sufficient to undermine any semblance of public confidence in federal criminal justice if the public understood the details of these cases.

Ralph Cipriano has now taken a giant step in this educational (and muckraking) endeavor. He has written a book describing in often dramatic detail the trials and tribulations of longtime Pennsylvania state Senator (and one-time unchallenged legislative powerhouse) Vincent J. Fumo. Cipriano’s contribution to our understanding is how the system worksand how it enhances the career prospects and power of federal prosecutors while mercilessly, and too often falsely, destroying the lives and careers of the targets. Target: The Senator; A Story About Power and Abuse of Power, is a worthy successor to my own effort to pull open the proverbial wizard’s curtain in the Land of Oz and expose the not-so-obvious manipulations being performed.

In 2009 I published Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. Those familiar with the depredations and depravities of federal criminal justice praised the book. Those who were ignorant of how the system really worked questioned in disbelief the real-life stories that I recounted. Federal prosecutors, on the other hand, and a few federal judges, departed from their colleagues to let me know usually in confidence, but only on very rare occasion publicly that I was on to something. The subtitle of my book “how the feds target the innocent” was not hyperbolic.

I hope that anyone who has doubted the extent to which federal prosecutors are able to, and in fact do with alarming regularity, target the innocent, has been cured of any such illusions by now. However, these kinds of systemic surveys of the dark corners of federal criminal justice one thinks also of Licensed to Lie by former federal prosecutor-turned-defense lawyer Sydney Powell (2014) are not quite adequate to the task. They are necessary, but not sufficient, for alerting the public and the media as to how an innocent citizen, even a powerful one, can be railroaded.

What has been lacking to date has been a detailed, book-length, step-by-step depiction, in a single case, of precisely how it is done. Cipriano has brilliantly filled in that gap, and now the general public, as well as journalists who so often report on federal prosecutions with all the gullibility of a victim of a three-card monte game, will be able to blame nobody but themselves if they believe the often-blatant propaganda that accompanies so many of these prosecutions and the news reports purporting to cover them.

Target: The Senator brilliantly lays out the federal prosecutorial jihad against one of the most powerful and colorful state politicians in recent memory, Vincent J. Fumo, who for so long dominated state politics in his position in the Pennsylvania Senate, a rank he attained after earlier apprentice years spent climbing the ladder. “In the city of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania,” Cipriano writes, “mayors and governors came and went. But from his stronghold in the Pennsylvania Senate, where he held the purse strings to the state budget, Vincent J. Fumo reigned for nearly a generation as a power broker.”

The primary focus of Cipriano’s fast-paced and often breathtaking account, however, is not so much the life and career of this fascinating political figure, but rather the federal prosecutors, aided and abetted by often manipulative agents of the FBI, who together were determined to bring down the large prey in their gun sights. This is often done for personal career advancement, but sometimes, it would appear, merely for the enhanced institutional power of the agency for which they worked.

Cipriano has a better understanding of the criminal justice system than most lawyers and even many judges. The phenomenon that he so deftly dissects will have the ring of truth to the sophisticated and experienced criminal justice system participant (including defendant victims and prisoners). To others, the book will be a new and shocking experience that in the end will be depressingly educational.

Fumo was surely no angel, but his more questionable and rangy activities were not serious violations of clear statutes and regulations, but, rather, ethically dubious pushes against the borders of propriety. Fumo was perhaps deserving of an occasional slap across the wrist, but the howitzer that the feds were able to bring to bear in their quest for his scalp is indicative not of the depth of the target’s depravity, but rather an indication of a system of justice gone mad, posing an outsized threat to the civil liberties and due process of law rights of all citizens.

Recently retired Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, in his foreword to Three Felonies a Day, tells the story of the tyranny exercised under the guise of law enforcement in the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and ’80s:

Every Soviet citizen committed at least three felonies a day, because the criminal statutes were written so broadly as to cover ordinary day-to-day activities. The Communist Party decided whom to prosecute from among the millions of possible criminals. They picked dissidents, refuseniks, and others who posed political dangers to the system. This began under Stalin when his KGB head, Lavrenti Beria, infamously said, “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.”

With respect to federal criminal statutes and regulations arguably relating to state political conduct, the situation is much the same. Virtually every state political figure is vulnerable. And from the mass of “possible criminals,” the feds often target those with sufficiently high profiles so that bringing down the large game will enhance the reputations, career prospects, and egos of the hunters. Fumo was “the man,” and the feds were relentless in finding “the crime.” Cipriano dramatically demonstrates how, step by step, the FBI agents and the prosecutors closed in on their prey and built a case that convinced a jury to find Fumo guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt, of all 137 counts lodged against him.

When prosecutors early in the investigation were unable to piece together the small details of Fumo’s political and personal life in order to produce an indictable offense, a new team got on the case and was able to weave a tapestry that made it appear that the senator was a one-man crime wave of corrupt politics.

As Cipriano put it: “The feds hadn’t caught Fumo taking any bribes or extorting money. But in the [new] prosecutors’ view, technically the senator was guilty of committing fraud every time a Senate employee or contractor did him a personal or political favor, say pick up his shirts from the cleaners, fix a home computer, or schedule a doctor’s appointment on his behalf.” 

The picture ultimately produced by the feds, who also had the advantage of being able to threaten witnesses with indictment unless their stories supported the prosecutors’ theories, managed to criminalize, in Cipriano’s words, “behavior formerly known as politics as usual.”

Cipriano’s dramatic telling of the story of the rapid rise, but even steeper and more dramatic fall, of one of the most idiosyncratic but powerful state political figures in recent memory would doubtless make, as the Hollywood folks would tout it, a major motion picture. 

Sadly, however, the story also belongs in the annals of the corruption of the federal criminal justice system. It is a story whose official version would have been purveyed without dissent by the gullible and sensationalistic Philadelphia news media, if not for the intervention of Cipriano, who has interjected truth as a weapon against raw governmental abuse of power and news media gullibility. Cipriano deserves our thanks for peeling back the curtain on the epic destruction of Fumo and revealing how it was done. Our job now is to read this important book with care and then to engage, as activist citizens, in an effort to reform the system.

Harvey A. Silverglate
Cambridge, Massachusetts
August, 2017


  1. This article lifted my spirits New Years Day, these books highlight what is happening everyday to innocents, not sometimes, but all the time, no honest mistakes are made, its outright criminal behavior on the part of the justice department.

    Hopefully this article will serve to wake up those that otherwise get their information from the mainstream media and do not believe that widespread corruption exist at the justice department.

    People that read this blog know the extent of the schemes the justice department has employed and the length they go to defend their hideous actions.

    The justice department does not only make mistakes on murder or rape convictions, as most people believe , but they invent crimes against innocents to benefit themselves.

    To the average person that had never had dealings with the justice department this is unimaginable,to think that those entrusted with the publics safety are profiting from their abuse, but its true, as there are multitudes that would attest to this behavior.

    Innocent people plead guilty to invented crimes rather than take a chance with a judge and jury that already are sure you are guilty, after your "trial" by the media.

    No prosecutor could do wrong in the eyes of a judge or jury, even though they are watching a performance by liars and schemers.

    Enough is enough of the media promoting the prosecution and enough is enough of prosecutors inventing crimes and sending innocents to prison.

    Prosecutors need to be held accountable for their crimes and their public corruption but most of all we need the mainstream media to help in this fight, not turn a blind eye to these daily atrocities as they do now .

  2. Larry Krasner was sworn in today as Philadelphia new District Attorney, it was reported by the Inky, that in his inaugural speech Larry had this to say " A movement was sworn in today. A movement for criminal justice reform that has swept Philadelphia ...and is sweeping the United States".

    Hopefully the Inky will take note and apply that reform not only to select portions of the justice department but to the entire justice department when reporting on crime or the prosecutions version of crime.

  3. This plea-bargain system of injustice MUST be scrapped. Let the accused have a fair trial - not a pretrial with sentencing orchestrated by the prosecutors who put a wedge between the judge and the accused, thus preempting the role of the judge.

  4. Ralph, do you find reason to believe that The Senator may have proffered other targets as his bargain with the DOJ who ignored issues of bribery and fraud and did not level RICO charges

    When going before a grand jury involving the Casino Legislation, Turnpike Commission and Infrastructure kickbacks, and certainly the administration and cultural corruption at Traffic Court and Parking Authority where persons went to jail who owed their political existence to Vincenzo.

    1. Also remember where we are getting all our information from, the prosecution/Inky.

  5. I doubt very much if Vince proffered any other victims of the justice department. The feds want people to think that happens,to create mistrust and instability,the feds want any and all elected officials,politicians or politically active individuals, all high profile types are in the cross hairs of prosecutors. The feds start their own rumors.

    6th and Market always wants a high profile corruption case running at all times, right now there is a prosecutor who has said " All politicians are crooks." What more needs to be said, he then feeds info to the Inky and the defendants are dammed.

    How can such a discriminatory remark be acceptable, but yet he uttered those words and is still working, had a citizen working in the private sector made a similar type remark about another group of individuals they would be fired and disgraced, but not those in the justice departments, its perfectly legal.

  6. Insert the Special Prosecutor and the Presidency into this template and you have the impeachment and removal from office in exchange for lack of incarceration.

    If the target is a criminal, not even the President is above the law.

    1. No one should be above the law is what we should say,for the justice department is one of the chief offenders of our laws.

      When prosecutors or the FBI lie are they above the law ? It certainly seems that way. When they lie repeatedly and are not held accountable for their behavior or are not held up to public scrutiny by the media, these actions show us they indeed are above the law.

      Hate Trump and all he stands for but I did enjoy Rudy Giuliani calling the FBI storm-troopers. Have no respect for the FBI since the Philadelphia Traffic Court trial, watching an agent lie sitting under an American flag was nauseating but much more horrifying was that it happened with Inky reporters in the room, who did not make public the atrocity. So its safe to say the prosecution and the FBI are above the law.

      We read about the FBI having credibility issues these days, many recent faults of their hierarchy and the handling of the Parkland shooter, having been reported to them before the shooting with no follow up, the bureau has admitting an error on their part.

      I had with my whole heart believed in my country and the justice system but I look now upon them with disdain. The justice system is above the law.

  7. Innocence Project BREAKING NEWS: Gregory Counts and VanDyke Perry were just exonerated of 1991 crime that never even occurred. They spent a combined 36 years in prison.

    "I didn't want to waste one more minute being angry when I could spend that minute being happy," Greg told the courtroom.
    DNA testing that identified another man’s sperm in the complainant’s underwear led to a joint reinvestigation between the Innocence Project, the Office of the Appellate Defender and the New York County District Attorney Office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, revealing that law enforcement failed to fully investigate the case that resulted in two young black men serving a combined 36 years for a crime that never occurred.
    Numerous pieces of evidence should have given police and prosecutors pause before bringing the case to trial with the evidence that existed at the time – even a grand juror questioned the prosecution as to whether there was any physical evidence that the complainant had been raped. Prior to trial, the complainant gave widely conflicting accounts of the alleged crime.
    After his conviction, Counts sought the help of the Innocence Project, which ultimately received the consent of the New York County District Attorney’s Office to conduct additional DNA testing. More advanced DNA testing that was not available at the time of trial identified a male profile from a sample remaining from the semen found on the complainant’s underwear. In 2016, the profile was placed into the FBI’s national offender CODIS database and hit to a man, now deceased.


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