Consultant to former Reading mayor loses law license

James Hickey due to be sentenced March 27

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A one-time consultant to former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer has been suspended from practicing law.

Jim Hickey’s law license was placed under temporary suspension Thursday by the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Hickey pleaded guilty in December to honest services mail fraud and wire fraud as a co-defendant in a federal corruption case against Spencer and Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, the latter of whom was convicted last week on charges that he traded city contracts for campaign cash.

Spencer allegedly asked for information from then-Reading School Board President Rebecca Acosta so that it could be passed along to Hickey.

In exchange, Acosta would receive a campaign contribution from Hickey's engineering firm for her 2015 race for magisterial district judge, officials said.

Hickey is due to be sentenced March 27. His attorney said he has been cooperating with the federal investigation, and there will be "additional disciplinary consideration" of his license.

Spencer and Acosta are set to go on trial together in May. Spencer is under indictment on nine counts of bribery and two other charges; Acosta is charged with two counts of bribery, one count of mail fraud, one count of wire fraud, and conspiracy. Each faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each bribery count.

Acosta's husband, former Reading City Council President Francis Acosta, served nearly two years in federal prison after admitting to accepting an $1,800 bribe from Spencer for Rebecca Acosta's judicial campaign.

In return, officials said Spencer, who was seeking a second term as mayor, wanted Francis Acosta to seek city council's repeal of an anti-pay-to-play ethics ordinance that capped at $2,600 individual campaign contributions to people running for city office.

As for Pawlowski, he announced Thursday that he would resign as Allentown's mayor at 5 p.m. Friday, two months after beginning his fourth term.

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