Former Reading mayor seeks dismissal of federal charges

Vaughn Spencer charged with 9 bribery counts

PHILADELPHIA - Former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer, under indictment for his alleged role in a case of "pay-to-play" politics, is asking a judge to dismiss the federal government's bribery charges against him.

Spencer was charged in July with nine counts of bribery and a single count each of honest services wire fraud and conspiracy.

Prosecutors said Spencer, a Democrat, made clear to businesses and individuals that city contracts would be withheld if they didn't provide sufficient campaign contributions.

In documents filed with the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, Spencer's attorney, Geoffrey Johnson, claims that one of the bribery counts is "duplicitous," saying that his client can't be accused of "three separate and unrelated schemes" in a single count.

The other eight bribery counts are "defective," Johnson argues, because "each lacks factual allegations supporting an explicit quid pro quo between Spencer and the alleged campaign contributors."

Johnson is also asking the judge to remove from Spencer's indictment all references to the federal investigation in Allentown, saying there's nothing connecting Reading's former mayor to that probe.

One common denominator is Michael Fleck, the man who managed the campaigns of both Spencer and Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski. Fleck pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and bribery offenses and one count of tax evasion in connection with the investigation.

Sources told 69 News that Fleck wore a wire for the FBI and recorded conversations he had with both Spencer and Pawlowski.

Spencer told Fleck that his best chance at winning the 2015 Democratic primary election was to maximize his campaign contributions, even if it would be in violation of Reading's code of ethics.

One of the crimes Spencer is accused of committing is offering 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 magisterial district judge.

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.

Francis Acosta recently completed his prison sentence after admitting to his role in the case; his wife, Rebecca Acosta, is awaiting trial on two counts of bribery, one count of mail fraud, and one count of wire fraud and conspiracy. The judge has instructed her not to discuss the case with her husband.

Spencer, who would go on to lose his bid for a second term in the primary election, has admitted no wrongdoing. His attorney has called Fleck "a liar, a manipulator and not at all a trustworthy person."

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

Spencer remains free. His trial is set to begin on March 5.

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