ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Prosecutors in the Allentown pay-to-play trial showed jurors the $1,000 check engineer Matthew McTish wrote in 2013 to the mayor’s gubernatorial race, the same month the city bid an engineering contract for improvements along Basin Street.
The prosecution asked him why he wrote it.
“I didn’t want to upset that relationship that I felt I needed to maintain with the mayor to keep getting work with the city,” McTish testified.
But the defense countered that McTish donated to a host of politicians across the state in hopes of buying influence and landing municipal contracts.
McTish took the stand Thursday morning in the ongoing pay-to-play trial of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and attorney Scott Allinson. Investigators allege the mayor exchanged favors and city contracts in exchange for campaign donations, and that Allinson worked to steer legal work to his firm, Norris McLaughlin, with promises to raise money for the mayor.
McTish, the former president of McTish, Kunkel and Associates, has already pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy to commit bribery and is currently awaiting sentencing.
Prosecutors entered into evidence a series of checks in 2012 to the “Friends of Ed Pawlowski” from McTish and his brother, who served as the firm’s vice-president.
“And what were you expecting to get from these donations to Ed Pawlowski?” Asst. U.S. Attorney Michelle Morgan asked.
“Work,” McTish replied.
In response to a question from Morgan, McTish testified that he thought the mayor was drawing a connection between contracts and campaign donations by discussing in detail upcoming public works projects in the city before talking about donations in the same conversation.
McTish testified that Mike Fleck and Sam Ruchlewicz, members of Pawlowski’s campaign team, also made clear those connections.
McTish said he had hired former state Rep. Jennifer Mann as a business development consultant to get work in the public and private sectors. The prosecution entered into evidence an email from former city Controller Mary Ellen Koval that McTish forwarded to Mann.
The email from Koval asked for a $15,000 donation to the mayor’s gubernatorial run. McTish’s message to Mann expressed frustration over such a large ask and the lack of work coming out of Allentown.
“So, the city controller, slash, co-chair of the finance committee for Ed Pawlowski was asking you for a donation?” Morgan asked.
McTish testified that he met the mayor for lunch on May 27, 2014, to “catch up” and let him know about his interest in work in the city. The mayor, in turn, talked about his fundraising efforts, McTish said.
The prosecution played a secret December 2014 recording featuring McTish and Ruchlewicz, who spoke with McTish about a design services contract for a Chew Street streetscape project.
“Your investment in our good friend the mayor had paid off,” Ruchlewicz said. “I just spoke with, um, Fran (Dougherty) and Mary Ellen (Koval) from Allentown, the controller and managing director.”
There’s a streetscape coming out for Chew Street,” he said,
“Okay,” McTish said.
“If you’re interested, it can be all yours,” Ruchlewicz said.
In response to a question from Morgan, McTish said the city had yet to release a request-for-proposal or RFP for the Chew Street project.
After briefing McTish on the pending project, Ruchlewicz immediately asked McTish to sponsor and attend a fundraising event the next day for Koval, who was running for controller.
Prosecutors played a recording made the next day before Ruchlewicz and the mayor attended Koval’s event.
“You brought up before about finding him (McTish) some work,” Ruchlewicz said. “We found him the Chew Street project.”
“Oh, okay good,” Pawlowski said.
“So, I wanted you to hit him up for your holiday party,” Ruchlewicz replied.
McTish testified that he gave Koval a $1,000 donation that day and that he never received the Chew Street project. Koval and McTish both pleaded guilty to conspiracy in connection to the Chew Street streetscape project that the city eventually handled in-house.
McTish also admitted during testimony that he grew frustrated over not getting more city work in exchange for thousands in donations.
During his cross-examination, Pawlowski defense attorney Jack McMahon highlighted one of McTish’s interviews with the FBI in which he told agents that he saw donations to elected officials as a “necessary business expense if McTish, Kunkel wanted to be competitive in public engineering projects.” McMahon has noted while cross-examining other witnesses that they characterized campaign donations as “business development.”
McTish specified that he saw donations as necessary to stay competitive in Allentown.
“Is that what you said?” McMahon asked.
“It’s what I meant,” McTish said.
McMahon would later attack McTish on that point, noting that he donated to politicians across the state and the Lehigh Valley, including to former Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller. McMahon against pulled from McTish’s interview with the FBI in which he told executives that believed Allegheny and Lehigh counties gave their executives the most power over contracts and that he hoped to gain access to Muller, if he won.
During the first three weeks of the trial, McMahon has tried to establish that promises were made and lies were told by those around the mayor. He has also insisted since before the trial began that prosecutors have failed to show an explicit quid pro quo between Pawlowski and donors.
One secret recording caught Fleck telling Pawlowski that McTish had agreed to donate $15,000 and raise another $15,000. McTish had testified that he felt $15,000 was an “outrageous” request. When asked by McMahon whether he agreed to make such a donation, McTish said he couldn’t recall.
“Do you give out so much money that you don’t remember committing $15,000?” McMahon asked to which the prosecution objected. The objection was sustained.
Under intense questioning from McMahon, McTish also failed to recall whether he had an explicit agreement with the mayor to make a $1,000 donation to his gubernatorial campaign in exchange for the Basin Street contract.
It was Ruchlewicz who said he spoke with Dougherty and Koval about finding McTish Kunkel work and suggested Pawlowski ask McTish to donate to a holiday party to which he had previously donated, McMahon said. It was Ruchlewicz and McTish, not the mayor, who discussed the arrangement with Koval.
And Koval – who asked Ruchlewicz to thank McTish for his support – was the one who promised the firm a contract to manage the Chew Street project, which ultimately didn’t come to fruition, he said.
“This is another example of you not getting something for your money,” McMahon said.
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