Former Reading mayor charged in pay-to-play scheme

VIDEO Former Reading mayor charged in...

READING, Pa. - Former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer was the "mastermind" behind a culture of corruption at city hall, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

The acting U.S. attorney for eastern Pennsylvania announced a multiple count indictment against Spencer, as well as former Reading School Board President Rebecca Acosta and others.

"This type of culture destroys the respect citizens have and are entitled to have for public officials," Acting U.S. Attorney Lou Lappen during a news conference in Philadelphia.

Reading ethics law limited how much campaign cash elected officials could collect from city contractors, but in the unsealed indictment, prosecutors said that didn't stop Spencer from trying to get around it.

"What did he do? "He struck a deal with [Francis Acosta], the president of Reading City Council," Lappen said.

Francis Acosta is married to Rebecca Acosta, the school board president who was running for a magisterial district judge seat. Feds said Spencer agreed to help Rebecca Acosta's campaign if her husband got city council to help him skirt an anti-pay-to-play law.

"We find it an astounding, astounding act of irony to draft legislation to repeal an anti-corruption statute," Lappen said.

Francis Acosta has already pleaded guilty for taking an $1,800 bribe from Spencer. He is serving a two-year prison sentence. Now, his wife is due for trial.

According to the indictment, a political operative said of Rebecca Acosta, "She also understands that if we hand her a check as she gives us a package, that becomes illegal, so, [let's try to avoid] going to jail over a [expletive] district judge's race."

Members of Reading City Council had mixed reactions to the indictments. WFMZ's Amanda VanAllen spoke to two council members who served alongside Spencer and Acosta for years.

Current Reading City Council President Jeff Waltman said he heard rumblings about pay-to-play schemes a few times during Spencer's time in office.

"I felt that people had tried to kind of skirt along my way, and I clearly was very clear that, you know, we don't do that. I wouldn't do that. Why would you be bringing that up? We don't operate that way," Waltman said.

Councilman Stratton Marmarou said he's shocked to hear the accusations against the former mayor, who he calls a good friend.

"I don't know [if he's capable of something like this]. He never showed any of that stuff to me, in front of me. He never mentioned anything like this," Marmarou said.

But both said if Spencer did it, he should pay. Spencer is expected in court next week.

The FBI first entered Reading City Hall in July 2015, but according to federal documents, the pay-to-play scheme dates back to 2012.

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