ALLENTOWN, Pa. - As he continued his cross-examination of a key prosecution witness, defense attorney Jack McMahon introduced a recording in which the mayor of Allentown is heard telling his campaign manager they shouldn’t consider doing anything unethical.
“I don’t think we should even come close to crossing the line,” Mayor Ed Pawlowski said. “… if we’re drawing this line in the sand and it’s going to get blurry, that’s the time when we need to sit back and reevaluate.”
But the mayor is also heard in the same conversation suggesting Michael Fleck delete everything in a campaign aide’s hard drive over concerns over what he might have put in writing.
“It scares me now. I’m actually a little bit scared,” Pawlowski said. “I don’t know what the hell else is out there.”
McMahon is scheduled on Wednesday morning to continue his cross-examination of prosecution witness Sam Ruchlewicz in the trial of alleged pay-to-play politics in Allentown City Hall. The four-term mayor stands accused of trading favors and city contracts for campaign donations.
Ruchlewicz worked for Fleck, the mayor’s campaign manager, and has been at the center of scores of secret recordings that investigators allege shows the Pawlowski engaging in quid pro quo as he ran for higher office.
The defense had laid the blame at the feet of others, including Fleck and Ruchlewicz, while prosecutors have alleged Fleck ordered his employee to serve as a buffer between a mayor seeking donations and vendors looking for city contracts.
As McMahon opened his cross-examination Tuesday, he looked to impugn Ruchlewicz as a witness, noting that he was initially investigated by the FBI for loan fraud, but was never charged because of his cooperation in the Pawlowski investigation. He also painted Ruchlewicz as a business consultant looking only to line his own pockets.
As testimony was wrapping up Tuesday, McMahon questioned Ruchlewicz about an incident involving Allentown real estate developer, Ramzi Haddad.
Haddad had testified last week about wanting to purchase a property known as the Banko building with an eye toward leasing it to the city essentially as a public works garage. Ruchlewicz testified that Pawlowski was interested in what Haddad was proposing, but that ultimately it didn’t pan out.
A problem arose when Ruchlewicz reportedly told Haddad that an agreement with the city was a “done deal.” Ruchlewicz testified Tuesday that Fleck had spoken with the mayor, who indicated a deal, “in essence,” was done.
“There was an issue with what I told Ramzi (Haddad) and what I eventually found out was true,” Ruchlewicz said.
McMahon asked whether the mayor was upset with Ruchlewicz for what he had told Haddad.
“The mayor was angry that I had memorialized that conversation with Ramzi in a text message,” Ruchlewicz replied.
McMahon proceeded to play a message secretly recorded by Fleck in his office only days before the FBI raided city hall. Fleck, who began cooperating with the FBI months earlier, had been running a business and campaign consultancy out of the same office with the same staff.
Pawlowski is heard confronting Fleck about a text message Rucklewicz reportedly sent Haddad about a favor he was seeking from the city. That was the text message in which Ruchlewicz also informed Haddad about the “done deal.”
Investigators allege the mayor arranged to address zoning and inspection issues on a property Haddad owned in exchange for thousands in campaign donations. Haddad has pleaded guilty.
A clearly upset Pawlowski informs Fleck that Ruchlewicz told Haddad in a text that the city’s managing director “will take care of it, he just can’t tell you that in writing,” according to the transcript.
“He writes this in a text Mike. He writes it in a text,” Pawlowski said.
The mayor is heard saying Ruchlewicz “just doesn’t know when to not cross the line” and accuses Ruchlewicz of lying to Haddad about the status of the Banko building. McMahon has repeatedly noted that Ruchlewicz had been making money for the consulting firm representing people like Haddad.
Pawlowski is heard urging Fleck to again consider clearly separating his business and campaign consulting firms.
“We shouldn’t do anything that isn’t ethical is my point,” Pawlowski said. “And if he asks us to cross a line, we say, ‘No, we’re not crossing that line Ramzi.’”
I don’t think we should even come close to crossing the line …” Pawlowski said later. “If we’re drawing this line in the sand and it’s going to get blurry, that’s the time when we need to sit back and reevaluate.”
The mayor also worries out loud several times to Fleck that the type of information Ruchlewicz put in his texts to Haddad could land them in jail.
“Yeah. The last thing we need is to have this (expletive) in writing,” Fleck replies.
“He put it in writing, Mike,” Pawlowski said. “I don’t know what else the hell he sent him. I don’t what texts he’s putting out there. I don’t know what e-mails he’s putting out there.”
The mayor went on to tell Fleck that he “purged everything” in his system, and he urged Fleck to do the same with anything dealing with him or the city.
“I would just delete everything on his hard drive, okay,” Pawlowski said of Ruchlewicz. “Because god only knows what the hell he has in there and what types of e-mails are floating around in cyberspace.”
The mayor goes on to call Ruchlewicz a liability, who needs to be controlled, and suggests that he should no longer be allowed to interact with the city’s managing director.
Fleck responds that he’ll get Ruchlewicz to purge his “stuff.”
“You need to find it out as soon as possible,” Pawlowski said. “Because if there’s too much stuff out there, then I don’t think I should be in this campaign because I don’t want to go to jail. And I’m sure you don’t want to go to jail either.”
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