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69 News speaks with 2 jurors from Pawlowski trial

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Last week, a jury spoke loud and clear when it delivered a verdict finding Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski guilty of 47 federal corruption charges. Now, two of those jurors are speaking out, and sharing their experience with WFMZ's Jamie Stover.

Brian Nawa, a 49-year-old, from Collegeville, Montgomery County was juror No. 7 during the six-week trial. Nawa, a digital marketing director, had some familiarity with the case before being assigned to it. He described the experience as "painfully difficult" but said he was confident the panel made the right call.

"I felt a little queasy, to be honest with you," Nawa said of delivering the verdict. "I feel strong about where we landed on our decisions, I wasn't happy about it, it wasn't like we high-fived each other…we were aware of the weight of our decision."

The weight of the decision, according to Allentown's charter, meant that Pawlowski, a four term mayor, would have to give up his post. A source Wednesday confirmed the mayor planned to step down Thursday. The conviction will also likely result in federal prison time. 

"I feel terrible for the residents of Allentown. In most cases, their taxpayer dollars contributed to, or were used to facilitate a lot of this," Nawa said.

Floyd Hall, a 46-year-old from Bucks County was the second juror to speak to 69 News.  Hall was juror No. 9, and works in food management in Allentown, though he lives in Levittown. 

Hall, one of two minorities on the jury, said that he first became aware of Pawlowski's allegations on the day he was selected to be a juror. He was listening to the radio on his drive to the federal courthouse in Philadelphia before he was chosen. 

Like Nawa, Hall said the decision was a bit painful. While the verdict was announced, Pawlowski put his hand to his forehead and wept. His wife later collapsed. 

"We all felt the same way when we came out of there," Hall said.  "You just affected a man's life, a man who's done a lot for the city."

"The manner in which you do it is just as important as what you do," Nawa said of the mayor's successes.

But despite testimony revealing revitalization in downtown Allentown during the mayor's tenure, Hall and Nawa said the government's evidence revealed corruption and a cover-up.

"It reeked to high heaven," Nawa said.

Nawa and Hall said the jury gave a lot of credence to secret government audio and video recordings, collected by lawful wiretaps and wires worn by two of Pawlowski's campaign operatives: Michael Fleck and Sam Ruchlewicz.

"Usually, people tend to say things in truth when they are not necessarily being watched," Nawa said.   "That's when you started to see the true colors come out, in many of those conversations."

"It was hard to get over that," Hall said. "Those tapes and video were pretty damaging in my opinion to what the defense was trying to do."

The defense was trying to pin blame on Ruchlewicz and Fleck. Ruchlewicz was never charged and Fleck signed a plea agreement. 

Ruchlewicz, who worked under Fleck at his consulting firm, spent several days on the stand on behalf of the government. Fleck never took the stand.

"We figured he (Ruchlewicz) was the protégé, so we wanted to see the mastermind," Hall said.

But Nawa said Fleck's absence, albeit not unnoticed, didn't really impact deliberations.  "Everything we needed to know about Sam or Mike was on the recordings," Nawa said.

While Nawa believes Fleck would have offered "interesting" testimony, he conceded even Ruchlewicz's time on the stand didn't have much weight inside the deliberation room because jurors found too many credibility issues. Hall agreed. 

But despite their inability to fully trust what Ruchlewicz said on the stand, understanding possible ulterior motives, Hall and Nawa said they found enough evidence to back up the U.S. Attorney's theory that the pair was working at the behest of Pawlowski -- trading city contracts for donations to his gubernatorial and senatorial campaigns, sometimes rigging the city's contract process to make it happen.

Both jurors felt uneasy about Pawlowski hiring the duo, and continuing to use their services even when he was presented with questionable activity. They also didn't understand why the consultants, who were not city employees, were given so much free access inside city hall.

"I know that Jonathan Saidel made a comment up there [on the witness stand] about wanting to throw him [Pawlowski] up against the wall based on his actions, and how amateur he seemed. I kind of felt the same way. I wanted to throw [Pawlowski] up against the wall just for associating with someone like Fleck," Hall said.

"He enabled that behavior," Nawa said. "I don’t think he can shake that responsibility." 

During trial, the defense highlighted government recordings showing Pawlowski confronting Fleck with concerns about what they were doing.

"It was too late. He was already knee deep, or neck deep you should say. By that time, too much evidence against him to be discounted any other way," Hall said.

"He could have and should have probably fired them, five, 10 times over," Nawa said. 

Hall and Nawa also had trouble rationalizing why the mayor talked about purging emails and other records.

"For an individual who says that they were not involved, didn't know this was going on, it didn't make sense you would go in those sort of tirades, and direct consultants to purge, not say things over the phone," Nawa said. "That was very telling." 

Nawa also thought Pawlowski's testimony was telling, describing his answers as "double speak."

"He was kind of playing games with words, it started to confirm my doubts about him," Nawa said.  "I think he played a game and he lost. He took a roll of the dice by playing up the 'I had no idea,’ the naïve kind of position…he had no alibi."

Hall described the mayor as "personable" adding, "it made it a little more difficult to make that decision that we did." 

At the conclusion of trial, Hall said he "didn't see any personal greed out of it, just a man who wanted to get to the Senate." The mayor testified that he needed money to demonstrate he was a serious contender in the 2016 race.

"Would have been better if he stayed Mayor Ed.  Not to put a dim light on any of his aspirations, just seemed like he was out of his league, and once he got in bed with it, he couldn't get out," Hall said. 

Despite finding the mayor guilty on a large majority of the charges against him, Hall and Nawa said there were parts of the defense that they believed.

Hall said he could see Fleck and Ruchlewicz trying to lead the mayor toward damning conversations as the defense argued, but said in the end, "all the evidence was there" showing the mayor was involved.

During trial, the government played a covert recording in which Garret Strathearn, the city's former finance director, talked to Fleck about picking up meatballs. There were discussions on the same phone call about a city contract. Strathearn testified the meatballs were just meatballs, but Pawlowski's attorney Jack McMahon, contended it was code for bribes.

"These people scarred me, I'll probably never think of meatballs the same," Hall said. "I thought it was code for something...you got some kind of Good Fella's feeling from it."

"I feel meatballs was definitely euphemism for bribe," Nawa said.

Perhaps the brightest moment for the defense, the jury acquitted the mayor of seven charges. Nawa and Hall said there simply wasn't enough evidence to connect the dots in an alleged scheme involving the Basin Street project and part of an alleged scheme surrounding revenue collection.

"Enough of us in the room just felt there wasn't a there, there." Nawa said. "We couldn't just go on a gut instinct that something was going wrong." 

The jury came to the decision after deliberating for approximately 14 hours. Nawa and Hall credited the quick verdict to teamwork, and a decision by Judge Juan Sanchez to give the jury free-reign and access to all evidence played at trial in the deliberation room.  A laptop allowed them to pull up recordings, transcripts, and jury instructions along with the indictment.

While the trial required a serious pause from their normal day-to-day lives, both Hall and Nawa said they recognized the importance of the case, and the amount of work and dedication put in from investigators, prosecutors, and defense attorneys.

For Hall, "it opened his eyes" to the "entire political community.”

"I don't envy any politicians in terms of what they have to do to get where they're at," Hall said. "I see how easy it is to lose your way, especially if you're following behind some bad elements."

Nawa said while the situation in Allentown was disappointing, he's sure "there is more good than bad" in politics, adding he still believes most politicians take on the role to serve. 

The consequence of the verdict in Pawlowski's case is not yet clear. A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

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