FBI Probe

Closing arguments set in Allentown federal corruption trial

Mayor Pawlowski's defense rested Monday

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - After more than five weeks of testimony from nearly 70 witnesses and hours of scratchy secret recordings, the federal corruption trial of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and co-defendant Scott Allinson is nearly in the hands of a jury.

Defense attorney Jack McMahon rested his case Monday afternoon following a brief redirect of the mayor’s testimony at the hands of Asst. U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek. U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez recessed the trial for the day in preparation for more than seven hours of closing arguments scheduled to begin 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The case may go to jury on Wednesday, depending on how long it takes the judge to instruct jurors.

Pawlowski testified in his own defense last week for nearly two days. Wzorek began his cross-examination late Thursday afternoon and picked up where he left off first thing Monday morning.

The prosecution tried to establish inconsistencies in the mayor’s testimony and in an interview he had with FBI agents in July 2015 compared to conversations secretly recorded by Sam Ruchlewicz and Michael Fleck, members of his campaign committee.

Prosecutors throughout the trial have worked to establish that Pawlowski tied what he expected in campaign donations from vendors to the amount of work they received from the city.

Wzorek revisited a June 2015 conversation the mayor and Fleck had with attorneys at the Philadelphia-based firm, Dilworth Paxson, which handled Allentown’s lease of its sewer and water systems. Joseph Jacovini, an attorney and senior partner at the firm, has been heard in the recording hesitating at the prospect of raising $20,000 for Pawlowski’s U.S. Senate run.

The mayor responded by telling Jacovini that it shouldn’t be that hard to raise the money considering all the money the firm had made in recent years. After the meeting, Pawlowski is heard complaining to Fleck about Jacovini balking at his request at the same he talked about playing golf in Scotland.

The mayor testified Monday that Dilworth Paxson had donated to other senatorial campaigns and that Jacovini expressing concern about having just donated to a series of other candidates was akin to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates pleading poverty.

When asked by the prosecution whether he “pushed” Dilworth Paxson for a donation, the mayor said he had in the sense that he knew going into the meeting how much the firm donated to campaigns. He told the jury that public records revealed how much the firm had donated to other candidates and that it had done work the previous year for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

“If they made $10, they probably weren’t potential givers,” Pawlowski said. “If they made $100 million last year, they were probably potential givers.”

As for his complaints about playing golf in Scotland, the mayor testified that he was venting to campaign staffers, a defense he used throughout his testimony when asked about city vendors who offered little in the way of campaign contributions.

“You do a lot of venting, don’t you sir?” Wzorek asked.
“When you are campaigning, you do Mr. Wzorek,” the mayor responded.

The prosecution pressed Pawlowski on his use of a Key West, Florida, vacation home owned by Richard Somach, an attorney at the law firm Norris McLaughlin. Investigators allege the mayor pressed his co-defendant Scott Allinson to arrange for campaign donations in exchange for directing work to the firm through Allinson.

The mayor testified that Somach let him use the home because they were friends and insisted that Somach’s inquiries about a possible appointment as the Allentown Parking Authority solicitor was an entirely a separate matter.

Wzorek re-read for the jury a series of messages between the two in which they discuss the mayor’s use of the home in Key West and the status of the parking authority solicitor appointment. Pawlowski maintained the first conversations about the house took place months before Somach asked about the parking authority.

But Wzorek countered by asking how Ruchlewicz, a campaign aide who did not work for the city, knew anything about a possible change in the parking authority solicitor. He re-read a text from Somach to the mayor in which Somach indicated Ruchlewicz said a change at the parking authority was on the horizon.

Pawlowski testified that he had no idea why Ruchlewicz would have the information or why he’d share it with Somach. He surmised that he must have mentioned in a conversation that the authority was considering a change in its solicitor and that Ruchlewicz ran with it.

The defense throughout the trial has argued Fleck and Ruchlewicz were at the center of the alleged pay-to-play scandal and that Pawlowski was unaware of what they were doing or they were representing the firms caught up in the investigation.

Wzorek told jurors Monday that Fleck and Pawlowski made more than 7,800 phone calls and sent more than 1,100 text messages during a roughly two-year period. They vacationed together, watched each other’s children, spent holidays together and Fleck even had the keys to the mayor’s house, Wzorek said.

And despite being aware of the inherent conflicts in Fleck’s business and campaign consulting firms, Pawlowski kept paying him month after month, and it was the mayor who brought Fleck to meeting after meeting with potential donors, where city business was also discussed, Wzorek said.

Before resting his defense, McMahon continued to make his case that Fleck was the driving force behind alleged shakedowns of potential donors. In one recording, the mayor is heard asking from whom Fleck’s business consulting firm has made money.

Fleck is heard rattling off a handful of clients after which McMahon notes the clients Fleck didn’t name, including Spillman Farmer, Northeast Revenue Services and The Efficiency Network, all companies investigated as part of pay-to-play.

He also read a transcript in which Fleck, Pawlowski and the city’s former managing director are discussing the streetlight contract awarded to The Efficiency Network and any problems it might present. In discussing the request for proposal to which firms responded, Fleck said, “We wrote it.”

“We didn’t write the RFP,” Pawlowski said.

And as we now know, Fleck was working for the FBI when that conversation occurred, McMahon said.

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