ALLENTOWN, Pa. - When FBI agents interviewed Mayor Ed Pawlowski on July 2, 2015, they asked questions about his managing director, his campaign staff, the city’s bidding process, how legal work is dispersed, his use of city email, whether he told anyone to destroy records and why he had his office swept for bugs.
But defense attorney Jack McMahon argues the one thing that’s never heard in a nearly three-hour interview with no breaks or read in the 93-page transcript is an admission by the mayor that he engaged in pay-to-play politics.
Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday afternoon in the mayor’s federal bribery trial after playing the interview secretly recorded by FBI agents in July 2015, the same day agents searched city hall and the mayor’s home. Authorities allege the mayor traded favors and city contracts in exchange for campaign donations and lied to federal investigators. His co-defendant, attorney Scott Allinson, is accused of trying to secure some of that work for his law firm, Norris McLaughlin.
Early in his cross-examination of FBI Special Agent Carmen DiMario, McMahon noted that he and Special Agent Scott Curtis were not honest with the mayor when they failed to tell him they were recording the voluntary interview.
“You lied to him,” McMahon said.
“We did not tell him he was being recorded no,” DiMario replied.
During direct testimony, DiMario said investigators often do not tell the target of an investigation that he or she is being recorded in an effort to solicit candid answers. McMahon seized on that tactic, noting his client never wavered from his position.
“He indicates over and over and over again that he didn’t do pay-to-play,” McMahon said.
Did (Pawlowski) ever admit to pay-to-play?” he asked. “And if he does, can you please tell me where that is?”
DiMario told jurors that he thought Pawlowski was “coming around,” when asked about certain issues. Specifically, the mayor initially denied knowing anything about lists he allegedly requested of vendors and the amount of city business they received.
He later admitted to using the lists to solicit for charity events and then eventually acknowledges using them as a starting point to consider for possible campaign donors, DiMario said.
As he’s done throughout the trial and since his client’s indictment, McMahon on Tuesday continued to press investigators to show clear evidence of the Pawlowski flat out asking a donor for contributions in exchange for a contract. And he dismissed the agent’s assertion that Pawlowski was nearing an admission that he had done anything wrong.
“’I think he was coming around in certain areas.’ So, that’s your assessment?” McMahon asked DiMario.
“Yes, I agree with your premise that he never came out and admitted to quid pro quo or pay-to-play,” the agent replied.
The agents were heard in the interview telling the mayor they secretly recorded conversations of him telling vendors they had “contracts lined up” before requests for proposals had even been released by the city. McMahon again pressed for clear evidence of such conversations.
“Is there any recorded conversations of the mayor sitting down with any of these vendors talking about the contracts being lined up before the RFP was issued?” he asked.
In that context, no, DiMario replied, trying to explain one needed to also consider larger conversations Pawlowski had with campaign staffers.
During the July 2015 interview, DiMario and Curtis told the mayor initially that their primary interest was in former Managing Director Francis Dougherty and later said they knew “Fran’s part of the problem.”
“Given the opportunity to threw Fran under the bus, (the mayor) didn’t do that, did he?” McMahon asked.
“No,” DiMario answered.
“He didn’t cooperate with you about anybody, did he?” McMahon asked.
“No,” DiMario replied.
In laying out its case, the prosecution played secret recordings of the mayor and his campaign staff meeting with developer and deep-pocketed donor Jack Rosen. Investigators allege the mayor directed city staff to find Rosen any contract in hopes of landing donations and access to other donors in New York City. Authorities allege Dougherty came up with a $35,000 no-bid cybersecurity contract to Rosen’s firm, 5C.
During the July 2015 interview, Pawlowski is heard telling the agents he didn’t know who owned 5C, the principals in 5C or whether anyone connected to the firm ever donated to one of his campaigns. Along with the recorded conversation, the prosecution presented nearly $20,000 worth of campaign checks from members of the Rosen family.
During her re-direct Tuesday, Asst. U.S. Attorney Michelle Morgan noted that while Pawlowski repeatedly denied in the interview engaging in pay-to-play, he also denied initially asking for vendor lists, denied being involved in the contracting process, denied speaking with vendors about contracts, denied destroying records and denied even knowing the principals in 5C.
“So, he denied a lot of things,” she said.
Before resting its case, the prosecution played the recording the FBI made of its interview with Pawlowski before agents served search warrants on city hall.
Agents Curtis and DiMario, who have testified for the prosecution, initially told the mayor they were taking a look at the city’s bidding and contracting processes because of concerns about certain vendors and Dougherty’ role in the process.
The agents questioned Pawlowski about Dougherty’s day-to-day role in city hall, his involvement in awarding city contracts and whether he’s ever seen Dougherty do anything illegal or unethical.
“I’ve never seen Fran do anything that’s not above board,” the mayor said.
Pawlowski is also asked about whether Dougherty ever interacted with the mayor’s campaign staff, specifically campaign manager Michael Fleck.
“So, campaign staff you try to keep separated from Fran?” DiMario asked.
“I just don’t want any appearance of improprieties there,” Pawlowski later replied.
The prosecution has presented evidence that Fleck and campaign aide Sam Ruchlewicz routinely interacted with city staff, and witnesses have testified they had the run of city hall.
The conversation eventually morphed into more of an interrogation as the agents began asking Pawlowski whether he’d ever helped steer a city contract to a donor in exchange for campaign contributions.
Pawlowski repeatedly and vehemently denied ever talking to potential donors about city business.
“Maybe not in the same breath or the same sentence,” Curtis said.
“What do you want me to cooperate with,” Pawlowski asked the agents at one point. “What do you want from me?”
Curtis and DiMario eventually reveal that they’ve been listening to the mayor’s conversations for months and ask him whether he’d like to start their conversation all over again.
“You’ve obviously been lying to us,” DiMario said.
“If you’re a help to us, you’re a help to yourself,” DiMario said later. “And now’s the time to get on board.”
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