Lawyers given more time to prepare for Reading bribery trial

Ex-mayor, school board president among 3 charged

PHILADELPHIA - A federal judge has granted attorneys more time to prepare for the bribery trial of former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer and two others charged in an alleged case of pay-to-play politics.

The U.S. attorney's office in Philadelphia had filed a motion asking that the trial not begin before March  5, 2018.

"The captioned case is so unusual and so complex due to the nature of the prosecution and the voluminous discovery, that it is unreasonable to expect adequate preparation for pretrial proceedings or the trial itself within the time limits established by the Speedy Trial Act," prosecutors wrote in their motion.

The act calls for a trial to begin within 70 days of the indictment being filed or of the defendant's first appearance in court, whichever is later.

Defense attorneys had no objection to the prosecutors' motion, and U.S. District Court Judge Juan R. Sanchez agreed to the request, saying that a continuance of the trial would allow for lawyers on both sides to be prepared.

"The ends of justice served by this order outweigh the best interests of the public and the defendants in a speedy trial," the judge wrote.

The evidence that needs to be reviewed by the attorneys includes numerous intercepted phone calls and meetings and terabytes of printed pages, officials said.

Spencer, former Reading School Board President Rebecca Acosta, and business consultant James Hickey were indicted in July following a two-year investigation by the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office.

Spencer, a longtime city council president and one-term mayor who lost his bid for re-election in the 2015 primary, was charged with nine counts of bribery and a single count each of honest services fraud and conspiracy.

Rebecca Acosta, a former candidate for district judge and the wife of former Reading City Council President Francis Acosta, was charged with two counts of bribery, and one count each of mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy.

Hickey was charged with one count each of bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy.

Spencer, Rebecca Acosta, and Hickey have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Francis Acosta admitted to accepting an $1,800 bribe from Spencer for Rebecca Acosta's judicial campaign in exchange for the then-council president seeking a repeal of an anti-pay-to-play ethics ordinance. Francis Acosta is serving a two-year sentence in federal prison.

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