ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Mayor Ed Pawlowski has testified during his federal corruption trial that he recognized the inherent conflict of interest facing his campaign manager, who ran business and campaign consulting firms.
He told a jury he asked his campaign manager to separate the two businesses.
Asst. U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek said Pawlowski kept paying Fleck’s firm month after month despite others warning about the dangers of having a campaign manager representing business clients looking to land city business.
“This inherent conflict kept going on and you knew about it,” Wzorek said. “But all you kept telling him was, ‘You need to fix it.’”
Federal prosecutors on Monday continued their cross-examination of the mayor, trying to attack potential inconsistencies in his testimony and his July 2, 2015, interview with FBI agents after a search of city hall and to establish a pattern of trying to hide his actions. Pawlowski stands accused of allegedly trading favors and city contracts in exchange for campaign donations.
Wzorek resumed his cross-examination by questioning Pawlowski on the issue of whether he asked city staff to compile lists of companies that had received city business as a starting point for seeking campaign donations. He told the FBI during the July 2015 interview that he only ever used such lists to fundraise for city functions.
But his story to the FBI slowly evolved after learning investigators had collected hundreds of recordings over a more than two-year investigation, Wzorek said. Pawlowski testified Monday that he didn’t understand the agents’ questions or why he was even being interviewed.
“So, you were confused because the agents were firing questions at you?” Wzorek asked.
“I was confused because they were firing questions at me, I was scared, I wasn’t sure why I was there,” Pawlowski said.
The prosecution played for the jury a secret recording Pawlowski and his former campaign manager Michael Fleck made in April 2015 in which Fleck is heard telling the mayor that he took the vendor lists from the city, entered the information into his own database and then made the originals disappear.
They are heard discussing a new strategy for asking for donations in which the mayor was to write on a piece of paper the amount of city work a firm had received and how much he wanted for his campaign. Fleck is then heard saying he would make sure to confiscate the papers and shred them.
“And there was no room on that piece of paper for your normal pitch?” Wzorek said. “You were going to write down the number of contracts and how much you wanted.”
Pawlowski testified that Fleck and his campaign aide Sam Ruchlewicz were constantly looking at ways to push potential donors and said he thought it was “an interesting idea.” The mayor continued to lay the blame for any high-pressure efforts to raise money at the feet of his campaign staff.
“Sam, the 25-year-old, was pushing you, the four-time mayor. He was telling you what to do?” Wzorek asked.
“I thought about it. I slept on it. But it never happened,” Pawlowski responded.
The prosecution also hammered the mayor about his answers to the FBI when agents asked whether he ever had his city hall office swept for listening devices. Wzorek told the jury that Pawlowski twice answered ‘no’ when asked if he had his office swept.
“That was an outright lie,” Wzorek said.
“I wasn’t correctly telling the truth,” Pawlowski said.
“What? You weren’t correctly telling the truth? That’s an outright lie. Correct?” Wzorek said, asking what the mayor didn’t understand about the question of whether he had his office checked for bugs.
The mayor responded, as he did for many of his answers regarding the July 2015 interview, that he was scared and wasn’t sure where FBI agents were going with their questions.
Agents asked Pawlowski whether he had ever asked anyone, including his former City Managing Director Fran Dougherty, to destroy documents. He told them that he had not.
Wzorek revisited secret recordings in which Pawlowski is heard telling Fleck to purge his files and having Dougherty to the same.
“I understood it to mean official city documents,” Pawlowski responded.
Pawlowski testified earlier that he was concerned about texts Ruchlewicz had sent to real estate developer Ramzi Haddad, promising that the city was planning on moving forward with a project for a building he planned to purchase. He told jurors that the texts were lies and he was concerned how they would look.
“What were you deleting?” Wzorek asked the mayor on Monday. “Sam saying, ‘Hey, let’s go to Disney World tomorrow,’ or ‘You owe me 50 bucks.’”
You weren’t concerned about going to jail over vacation plans or whether you owed someone money,” Wzorek said.
In fact, Pawlowski instructed his campaign manager to purge anything to do with him and city business and to go back as far as possible, Wzorek said. Pawlowski said that the prosecution took the conversation out of context, arguing he told Fleck to purge only those items that may have been lies told by Ruchlewicz.
In one secret recording, the mayor is seen hushing Fleck as the two talked in Fleck’s office about a “few things” that needed to be cleaned up. They proceed to go outside, where Fleck tells the mayor he needs to address a few issues with contracts awarded to The Efficiency Network and Northeast Revenue Services, two contracts investigators allege Pawlowski ordered directed to potential donors.
Pawlowski told the jury that Fleck was talking about city business with his office door open and an office full of interns. He reiterated the argument that he’s made since taking the stand in his own defense that he was worried about the political ramifications of misconceptions.
The issue of perceptions and politics arose again later in the cross-examination when Wzorek asked the mayor about a comment he made about having Haddad ask people to donate to his campaign. Pawlowski had testified that Haddad could help him fundraise without showing up as a donor on campaign finance reports.
“So, you wanted to take Mr. Haddad’s money, but you didn’t want him to show up as a donor,” Wzorek said.
Pawlowski responded that he was concerned about issues such as The Morning Call writing stories about the mayor’s political donors. He testified that he didn’t want anyone to take out of context that Haddad was getting preferential treatment for being such a big donor, which he argued wasn’t happening.
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