ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Federal prosecutors have played tape after tape of what they allege is Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski orchestrating a pay-for-play scandal designed to funnel campaign contributions his way.
But the defense has argued vehemently there’s one thing missing from the hundreds of recordings secretly made by informants – Pawlowski dangling a city contract in front of a vendor for a big-dollar campaign check.
Defense attorney Jack McMahon on Tuesday afternoon continued his cross-examination of prosecution witness Sam Ruchlewicz, a former campaign aide who was the first to flip and begin cooperating with the FBI. The defense has consistently argued the mayor is never heard on hours of tapes outright demanding campaign contributions in exchange for favors or work in city hall.
And he continued to attempt to cast doubt on the prosecution’s allegations of a quid pro quo.
McMahon revisited a handful of recordings played by the prosecution, maintaining that the mayor was never heard making an “ask.” In one recording, the mayor is heard making a campaign pitch to Matthew McTish, of the engineering firm McTish, Kunkel and Associates, laying out why he was a strong candidate and that he was trying to raise as much money as he could by June 30, 2015.
“At that meeting, there was never any request or demand by the mayor that to get any business with the city he had to make a donation of any kind,” McMahon said.
“Not explicitly,” Rucklewicz answered.
When asked to give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, Rucklewicz said the mayor made no such request.
McTish has pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit bribery.
In another recording played by the prosecution, Ruchlewicz, the mayor and Patrick Regan are heard discussing a street light project the city. Investigators allege city staff worked to rig the bidding process in favor of Regan’s firm because the mayor saw him and his family as a valuable source of campaign dollars and political connections in the Pittsburgh area.
Rucklewicz is heard allegedly confirming for Regan that the bidding process was “all teed up” for his company, The Efficiency Network or TEN, to get the contract. He then segues into hitting up Regan for a donation to a Pawlowski fundraising event.
McMahon played for the jury the segment he said prosecutors left out of their version that demonstrates the mayor left the table before Ruchlewicz and Regan start talking contracts and contributions. The two make small talk about Regan’s family and Ruchlewicz’s pending nuptials.
“We got this, um, um, once he leaves I can … I don’t want to get killed, but, um,” Ruchlewicz said.
Ruchlewicz recorded conversations for about 13 months, so McMahon asked whether that meeting had been the only between the mayor and Regan. Ruchlewicz said he wasn’t certain.
“But if there was and you were there, it would have been taped,” McMahon said.
In response to a question from McMahon, Ruchlewicz said he wasn’t aware of any other such recording.
Prosecutors have alleged that Spillman Farmer architects was one of the mayor’s preferred vendors because one of its principals, Joe Biondo, had traditionally given to his campaign. As a result, investigators accuse Pawlowski of making sure a contract to redesign the city pools went to Spillman Farmer.
But as he did with other recordings, McMahon asked Ruchlewicz to point out where the mayor attaches strings to a city contract or even discussed the bidding process with Biondo. As he’s testified before, Ruchlewicz said it was often “understood” what the mayor wanted.
“Did the mayor ever tell you out of his mouth … at a meeting, on the telephone, in a bar anywhere, that he wanted Spillman Farmer?” McMahon asked.
Have you ever seen, heard, looked at a tape that Spillman Farmer is the firm the mayor wanted to get the job,” he said.
“Not that I’ve seen,” Ruchlewicz said.
“Because it never happened because if it did, it would have been on a tape,” McMahon lashed.
The defense pointed out to Ruchlewicz that Pawlowski signed the pool contract for Spillman Farmer the day after Biondo declined to donate to the mayor’s U.S. Senate campaign.
McMahon tried to further distance his client from the allegations of bribery by noting that time and again Ruchlewicz was heard on recordings contacting potential donors or the city’s former managing director whenever a problem arose surrounding a contract allegedly linked to a contribution.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, have tried to lay the groundwork to show people like former campaign manager Mike Fleck and former Managing Director Fran Dougherty were acting on orders from the mayor. When Ruchlewicz was asked last week by the prosecution why he asked city vendors for campaign donations, he said, “I was instructed to by Mayor Pawlowski or by Mike Fleck, and if came from Mike, it was coming from Mayor Pawlowski.”
When asked if there was a chain of command, Ruchlewicz testified that the “mayor was the boss.”
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