ALLENTOWN, Pa. - During a January 2015 breakfast meeting, Sam Ruchlewicz, one of Mayor Ed Pawlowski’s political operatives, let attorney Scott Allinson in on a little secret.
Pawlowski was weeks away from deciding on whether to run for the U.S. Senate, according to the conversation heard on a secret recording. And once he decided whether to run, the mayor had about two months to raise $1 million, Ruchlewicz said.
“That’s when we need to have all of our lawyers, our engineers and vendors to step up and really start,” Ruchlewicz said.
Scottie can be the king of the legal world in Allentown,” Ruchlewicz said. “But Scottie’s half of the deal needs to be … we need you to raise about 10 (thousand dollars) for Ed to start.”
Federal prosecutors on Monday afternoon started laying the groundwork for their case against Allinson for his role in the alleged Allentown City Hall pay-to-play scandal. Investigators allege the attorney with the firm Norris McLaughlin worked to arrange campaign donations for the mayor’s aborted U.S. Senate run in exchange for legal work from the city.
The mayor stands accused of allegedly trading favors and city works in exchange for donations.
Prosecutors continued questioning Ruchlewicz, who has been heard on scores of secret tapes and is at the center of the investigation with his former boss, Michael Fleck. The prosecution is expected to question Ruchlewicz for at least another hour Tuesday followed by a grilling for the balance of the day from the defense.
The prosecution played a host of secret recordings featuring Ruchlewicz, the mayor, Allinson and Fleck. The first recording played for the jury featured a concerned Allinson talking to Ruchlewicz about a “major piece of litigation” that went to a Philadelphia-based law firm instead of Norris McLaughlin.
Allinson is heard saying that the “well is completely dry now,” which Ruchlewicz testified referred to donations from the firm.
“We’ve been unbelievably supportive until now,” Allinson said. “And now you know, the work is going everywhere else, but our shop.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you get some work,” Ruchlewicz said.
Ruchlewicz testified last week that Fleck ordered him to serve as a buffer or “layer of separation” between political candidates and potential donors looking to land contracts with the respective municipalities the elected officials represent.
The prosecution on Monday used one recording after another in effort to show how the mayor’s campaign staff pressed Allinson for donations from his firm in exchange for running all city legal work through him. They contend he received credit for bringing in the work, which allowed him the opportunity to dole out donations through the firm’s political action committee.
Specifically, investigators allege the mayor agreed to have the Allentown Parking Authority solicitor removed and make sure the city solicitor appointed Allinson’s firm to handle the work.
“So, the major pretty much controls the board members on that thing,” Allinson said of the parking authority.
“The mayor controls the board members on that thing,” Ruchlewicz said.
Ruchlewicz is later heard on a recording telling Allinson that former parking authority Solicitor Dan McCarthy is being removed and that Allinson will be “installed” as the new solicitor.
“Alright, now I need something from you, Scottie,” Ruchlewicz said.
I need you to something for the mayor’s holiday party,” Ruchlewicz said, asking Allinson to be a sponsor for the event.
“I’m willing to be a sponsor of that and write the check around the 22 of January,” Allinson said.
A thousand?” he said.
“Twenty-five hundred,” Ruchlewicz replied.
Prosecutors allege that conversations eventually layout a plan to appoint attorney Richard Somach as solicitor to the parking authority to appease the mayor, yet still give Allinson the necessary credit.
One recording after another features conversations in which investigators allege Allinson discusses the importance of getting the credit for bringing legal work into his firm, of Fleck, Pawlowski and Ruchlewicz discussing how much business the firm has gotten from the city and concerns about whether Allinson will come through for the mayor’s political aspirations.
Ruchlewicz is heard telling Pawlowski about a “strange conversation” with Allinson in which he expresses concern about whether Norris McLaughlin will land any more city work and whether the firm wants to donate to the mayor.
“I’ve given him millions of dollars,” Pawlowski says of Allinson.
“They’ve given almost nothing,” Ruchlewicz later said of Norris McLaughlin.
“Nothing,” Pawlowski responds. “Allinson for sure will get nothing now.”
The mayor is later heard making a phone call, trying to find out how much Norris McLaughlin and the firm’s predecessor earned between 2006 and 2011. The total about $1.3 million.
“They’re crazy, that’s not enough for them?” Pawlowski asked.
Fleck is heard in January 2015 telling the mayor that he was going to “pound the crap out of Scott Allinson” over the uncertainty surrounding donations from the firm.
“I’m going to pound the (expletive) out of him,” Fleck said. “I’m going to pound him. It’s horrible.”
The mayor asks Fleck about two weeks later, “Are you going to light up Allinson? I don’t have to do it?”
“I tell you, there are a lot of law firms out there I can work with,” Pawlowski said.
“Yeah,” Fleck responded.
In response to questioning from Asst. U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek, Ruchlewicz said to “light up” Allison was to have an open and frank conversation that it was unacceptable to withhold donations for the mayor’s future Congressional race.
In the days leading up to a meeting between Allinson, the firm’s Chairman Matthew Sorrentino and the mayor, Allinson is heard complaining to Ruchlewicz about how much PAC money Pawlowski campaigns have eaten up without bringing a “lick of value” into the firm.
“Twenty-five thousand is a lot of (expletive) money, when you’re getting absolutely zero back from the city,” Allinson tells Ruchlewicz of the mayor’s pending request.
Pawlowski is heard in a May 2015 meeting formally asking Allinson and Sorrentino to help him raise $25,000 by the June 30 campaign reporting deadline. The campaign raised $400,000, hired a pollster and was in the process of hiring a social media manager, he said.
The campaign may return later for more money, Pawlowski said in his pitch, but he wanted to prove that he was serious a raising the money for a primary run and serious about winning the race.
Days before the FBI would raid city hall in July 2015, Fleck is heard telling the mayor that Sorrentino “came through” with $17,300 in donations and that the balance of the $25,000 request was on its way.
“Can we appoint Somach to the parking authority now,” Fleck asks the mayor.
“It’s not that easy, I gotta get rid of Dan (McCarthy),” Pawlowski responds, adding that he can’t appear at a parking authority board meeting advocating for the removal of its solicitor.
At the time, McCarthy was serving as Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller’s director of administration. Fleck suggested Pawlowski get to McCarthy through his boss.
Fleck recommended the mayor suggest Muller ask McCarthy to step down from the authority before a “big story” hits the newspapers about his full-time director of administration pulling down a paycheck from another public authority.
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