The FBI arrested two men who did computer work for a powerful state senator Wednesday on charges that they permanently deleted e-mails to thwart a federal investigation.
Leonard P. Luchko and Mark Eister performed electronic "wipes" of computers at Sen. Vincent J. Fumo's Senate offices, his home at the New Jersey shore and at a nonprofit with deep ties to Fumo, the FBI alleged in an affidavit.
"This was a deliberate, systematic and ultimately successful effort to interfere with a federal investigation," U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan said. "We have to assume that valuable information is lost forever."
The document does not name Fumo and he has not been charged, but Meehan said the probe is not over. The affidavit refers to an unidentified senator who clearly is Fumo.
Luchko and Eister, employees of a state Senate entity that provides computer services to its Democratic members, are charged with obstruction of justice.
The aides' lawyers say they were just doing their jobs, securing the privacy of communications. Prosecutors, however, say e-mails were deleted as the FBI demanded files as part of their grand jury investigation into Fumo's links to the nonprofit.
"Boss is driving us ALL nuts with this FBI madness," Luchko wrote in a June 2004 e-mail, according to court documents. Prosecutors allege that Luchko wrote to Eister to same day, saying Fumo wanted all e-mail between him and his Harrisburg staff deleted weekly.
The investigation centers on whether Fumo used his office to extort corporate donations for the Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, which benefits Fumo's South Philadelphia district. Investigators are trying to find out if the senator "benefited both politically and personally from expenditures made" by the nonprofit, according to court documents.
The nonprofit, which has helped finance charter schools and refurbished run-down properties in South Philadelphia, has obtained millions of dollars in donations from powerful entities that lobby the Legislature.
Prosecutors say they have numerous e-mails from third-party sources that show Fumo used the nonprofit to funnel money to projects and causes important to him.
Fumo, the ranking Democrat on the Senate appropriations committee, is one of the most influential politicians in Harrisburg. He has said requests for donations to Citizens Alliance were efforts to help his district and did not influence his policy positions.
"The government has made it clear that it will go to any length to get Senator Fumo," Fumo's lawyer, Richard Sprague, said in a statement. "These two individuals arrested today are unfortunately victims of the process of attempting to get the senator. Their trials will prove that."
Luchko, 49, of Collingdale, and Eister, 36, of Camp Hill, were arrested at their homes before daybreak, the FBI said. They were released on bail, ordered not to talk to Fumo staff members and told to return to court next week.
Luchko's lawyer, James C. Schwartzman, said he was surprised to learn of the arrests because he had repeatedly offered to have his client surrender. He promised to fight the charges and said Luchko was not under any pressure to please Fumo.
Eister's lawyer, Brian McMonagle, said his client routinely deleted e-mails for security reasons long before the FBI probe.
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