Former Reading mayor due for first court appearance Tuesday

Vaughn Spencer charged with 9 bribery counts

Former Reading mayor due for first...

PHILADELPHIA - Former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer -- the alleged "mastermind" behind a culture of corruption at city hall -- is scheduled to go before a federal judge for the first time since being indicted on bribery charges last week.

Spencer's court appearance in Philadelphia on Tuesday will come six days after the U.S. attorney's unsealing of a grand jury indictment that charged the former mayor with nine counts of bribery and a single count each of honest services wire fraud and conspiracy.

Spencer, 70, stands accused of selling his office "to the highest bidder," according to Acting U.S. Attorney Louis Lappen, who added that he violated "the trust and confidence" of Reading's residents.

A two-year investigation by the FBI and federal prosecutors found that Spencer offered an $1,800 bribe through then-Reading City Council President Francis Acosta to the campaign of Acosta's wife, former Reading School Board President Rebecca Acosta, who was running for district judge, according to the indictment.

In return, officials said Spencer 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.

At the time, Spencer was seeking a second term as mayor, however, he would eventually lose the Democratic primary election to Wally Scott, the city's current mayor.

Rebecca Acosta is also accused of obtaining inside information about a Reading School District construction project. Spencer allegedly asked her for the information so it could be passed along to a business consultant named James Hickey.

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

Francis Acosta, who admitted in August 2015 to his role in the case, is currently serving a two-year prison sentence; his wife, Rebecca Acosta, was also indicted last week. She pleaded not guilty to two counts of bribery, and one count each of mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy, during her first court appearance on Thursday.

Hickey, who was charged with one count each of bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy, is also due to appear in court for the first time Tuesday.

Each bribery charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to federal prosecutors.

69 News will be in Philadelphia for Tuesday's court hearings. Watch for full reports both on-air and online.

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