FBI Probe

From philosophy major to the center of Allentown's pay-to-play scandal

Sam Ruchlewicz returns to the witness stand Monday

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Sam Ruchlewicz was sitting in his San Francisco hotel room in June 2014, waiting for what he thought was a client.

He had just proposed during the trip to his girlfriend, who was down by the pool while he took care of a little business. He heard the knock on his door.

But waiting in the hallway was a pair of FBI agents with a search warrant and another room in the hotel, where they asked him to inform on his boss and the mayor of Allentown.

The philosophy major and turned business and campaign consultant now found himself in the center of a pay-to-play scandal in the state’s third largest city.

The federal corruption trial of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski enters its third week on Monday, when Ruchlewicz returns to the stand. His testimony resumes at 11 a.m.

Investigators allege Pawlowski traded city contracts and favors in exchange for campaign donations. A grand jury indicted the four-term mayor on 54 counts. Lehigh Valley attorney Scott Allinson faces two counts for allegedly trying to steer legal work toward his firm in exchange for donations to the mayor’s Congressional run.

Ruchlewicz’s name has come up repeatedly in testimony and recordings during the first two weeks of the trial. He’s been heard asking for campaign donations and Eagles tickets and arranging with city staff to manipulate the bidding process, all allegedly at the behest of the mayor.

The defense has seized on the frequency with which Ruchlewicz is mentioned or featured, arguing it was him and his former boss lining their pockets and engaged in qui pro quo, not the mayor.

Authorities have not charged Ruchlewicz in connection to the FBI’s pay-to-play investigation, and he testified that he agreed to cooperate with no promise of escaping prosecution.

Philosopher turned campaign consultant

Ruchlewicz graduated from Franklin and Marshall College with a degree in philosophy. He met his future boss, Mike Fleck, in 2011 while volunteering for Vaughn Spencer’s first campaign for mayor of Reading.

Fleck, who was running Spencer’s campaign, brought Ruchlewicz on as an unpaid intern. He hired the 22-year-old in January 2012 as a business development and project manager at the fledgling firm, Fleck Consulting. Ruchlewicz was one of four employees.

Asst. U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek asked Ruchlewicz last week if he knew anything about Fleck’s background.

“I know he was a theater major,” Ruchlewicz responded. “He sold used cars. He sold furniture at Boscov’s. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in Easton.”

Once he agreed to inform for the FBI, Ruchlewicz told jurors that he met with agents every morning to get wired up and provide them with an itinerary of his day. At the end of the work day, he met with agents again to turn over his recordings and provide an update.

Wzorek asked Ruchlewicz whether it was a difficult decision to inform on the man who gave him a job as a recent college graduate.

“After the FBI provided all the evidence of what had happened, not really,” he replied.

Ruchlewicz went on to testify that he had been “rationalizing” everything, unsure of how he went from a campaign intern to the middle of an alleged pay-to-play scandal.

FBI flips mayor’s campaign manager

The FBI approached Fleck about nine months after rolling Ruchlewicz. He told jurors that Fleck came into the office, motioning for staff not to speak and passing around a note with the name of a restaurant and a time.

Later at the 6 p.m. meeting at a hibachi restaurant, Fleck told everyone they were facing “increased scrutiny” from law enforcement and that the FBI allegedly had evidence against him and mayor.

He also asked if anyone was wearing a wire.

Ruchlewicz lied and said ‘no.’

Fleck reportedly walked into the office the next day dismissing the matter as a tax issue spearheaded by an aggressive IRS. He told everyone not to worry and to go about your business, Ruchlewicz said.

Under questioning from Wzorek, Ruchlewicz described Pawlowski as paranoid and a micromanager. He completely re-wrote the campaign website H. Street Strategies created for him, and the mayor was in constant contact with Fleck, he testified.

“It was a very rare day for Mike to talk to Ed fewer than three times,” Ruchlewicz said.

Once Ruchlewicz started accompanying the mayor on campaign-related meetings, Pawlowski would often have his most open conservations in places like bathrooms, cars and elevators, places he thought were the safest from bugs, Ruchlewicz told jurors.

The mayor had his office swept for listening devices and urged Fleck to sweep his office too, Ruchlewicz said. And when Fleck didn’t listen, the mayor urged Ruchlewicz to urge Fleck to sweep the office, according to his testimony.

‘Layer of separation’

Ruchlewicz testified Thursday that he was instructed by Fleck to serve as a “buffer” or “layer of separation” between donors and the firm’s political candidates. Authorities allege one of those donors was Jack Rosen, a politically connected and wealthy New York City real estate developer.

Investigators maintain the mayor saw Rosen as a critical fundraising source in New York City and, to those ends, allegedly ordered former Managing Director Francis Dougherty to find work for Rosen.

In a January 2015 recording, Ruchlewicz tells Pawlowski that Rosen’s son, Jordan Rosen, agreed to a $15,000 sponsorship for the mayor’s annual Mardi Gras fundraiser. Ruchlewicz testified Thursday that he had access to the mayor’s financial planning and knew how much Rosen had already donated and that the mayor expected $100,000 more.

The prosecution replayed a secret recording between Ruchlewicz and Dougherty, who are heard discussing a contract for Ciber, Rosen’s cybersecurity firm.

“I think we have identified work for them to do,” Dougherty said of Rosen.

We’re going to give them a job, okay,” he said. “Those are my instructions from the mayor.”

Ruchlewicz is later heard telling Dougherty about Rosen’s impressive wealth.

“And by the end of the year, he will be our largest donor,” Ruchlewicz said.

“Wow, really?” Dougherty replied.

“If all goes according to plan, he will be our single largest donor,” Ruchlewicz said.

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