ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A trio of attorneys who donated to Mayor Ed Pawlowski’s aborted U.S. Senate in run in 2015 testified Wednesday that Allentown’s transformation, not the promise of more legal work for their firm, was the reason they opened their checkbooks.
The defense in the Allentown pay-to-play trial opened Wednesday and focused on attorney Scott Allinson, who stands accused of trying to funnel city legal work to his firm, Norris McLaughlin, in exchange for the promise of campaign contributions to the mayor. A federal grand jury indicted Pawlowski for allegedly lying to the FBI and trading city work and favors in exchange for donations.
Allinson’s attorneys, William Winning and Megan Scheib, questioned a trio of current or former Norris McLaughlin attorneys about their June 2015 donations to the mayor’s U.S. Senate campaign. Oldrich Foucek, Scott Lipson and Charles Smith Jr. each testified they made their donations after Matthew Sorrentino, the firm’s chairman, asked them whether they’d consider donating to Pawlowski’s campaign.
They also testified that he reminded them about a quarterly June 30 deadline for candidates to report campaign donations. There’s been previous testimony that Pawlowski wanted to raise $1 million by that deadline in show he was a viable Congressional candidate.
Each witness testified they made their donations based on the transformation they had seen in the city during the mayor’s tenure.
“I felt the city experienced a lot of redevelopment and a renaissance under his leadership,” Smith testified.
But Smith also added, “And because my boss asked me to,” prompting Asst. U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek to seize on Smith’s comment.
“To a certain extent, he had your career in his hand,” Wzorek said.
“I’ve been practicing law for 30 years,” Smith replied. “My clients are what make my career.”
Foucek testified on cross-examination that he’d donated to Pawlowski several times over the years for his mayoral, gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races. Smith and Lipson, however, testified their June 2015 donations were the first to Pawlowski and that they hadn’t donated to his last mayoral campaign.
Foucek testified he had a simple explanation for not donating since his June 2015 donation.
“I wasn’t asked,” he said.
The defense asked each witness whether they were asked by Allinson to donate, whether they discussed their donations with Allinson or whether he asked them to rescind their donations after the July 2015 FBI search of city hall. They all answered ‘no.’
Sorrentino took the stand Wednesday morning as the defense replayed a secret recording made in May 2015 in which the mayor was heard making his pitch as a viable U.S. Senate candidate and asking members of the firm to raise $25,000 by June 30. Attending the meeting with Pawlowski were his campaign manager Michael Fleck and campaign aide Lisa Rossi; Allinson and Sorrentino represented the law firm.
Under questioning from Winning, Sorrentino testified that at no time during that meeting did anyone draw a connection between more legal work from the city and a donation to the mayor’s campaign. Winning is set to continue questioning Sorrentino Wednesday afternoon, followed by the defense’s cross-examination.
During his earlier cross-examination of Foucek, Wzorek noted what he called a “spike” in the legal work Norris McLaughlin and the firm’s predecessor received from the city, beginning in roughly 2010.
He also directed Foucek’s attention to an excerpt from his interview with the FBI when he said of Pawlowski, “He was the type of person who would expect people to do a favor for him, if he did a favor for them.”
Foucek said he didn’t specifically recall making that statement or what exactly he meant by it.
“Isn’t that quid pro quo?” Wzorek asked, which elicited an objection from the defense that the judge sustained.
On her re-redirect, Scheib asked Foucek to clarify the reasons behind the “uptick” in legal work from the city, beginning in 2010. He testified that the firm began handling some cases, such as a dispute over the city business tax and an eminent domain issue, that required up to a year of work and assistance from a law associate.
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