ALLENTOWN, Pa. - As he defended himself Thursday against allegations of corruption, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski acknowledged that he discussed city business and campaign contributions in the same visit with a businessman turned donor.
But he told jurors that he made it clear when the conversation had shifted gears.
Asst. U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek doesn’t buy the argument.
“You talked about business, you talked about contributions and never the twain shall meet?” he said.
Federal prosecutors on Thursday began their cross-examination of the four-term mayor, who stands accused of trading favors and city contracts in exchange for campaign donations. The defense rested earlier in the afternoon during Pawlowski’s second full day on the witness stand.
The government will continue its cross-examination 9 a.m. Monday, when the pay-to-play trial enters its sixth week. U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez told the jury that he’s hopeful they will begin deliberations early next week.
Wzorek began his cross-examination late in the day after nearly five hours on the stand for Pawlowski. The prosecutor peppered the mayor for about 90 minutes, touching on several aspects of the case.
Wzorek opened his attack by asking Pawlowski whether he’d have any reason to hide his conversations, if he wasn’t engaged in pay-to-play politics. The prosecution proceeded to play a secret July 2015 recording made by his former campaign manager, Michael Fleck, in which the mayor is heard expressing concern about interns he didn’t know working in Fleck’s office and not knowing who may be listening into conversations.
“You can’t get indicted for anything except the (expletive) you say out loud, so don’t say any (expletive) out loud,” Pawlowski is heard telling Fleck.
The mayor said he couldn’t say exactly to what he was referring without more context of the conversation, but he assured Wzorek he wasn’t talking about pay-to-play. When pressed later about his concerns over what people might hear him say, Pawlowski said he was concerned politically about misperceptions.
Earlier in the day, the mayor admitted he lied to campaign aide Sam Ruchlewicz about the city bidding out a cybersecurity contract awarded to a company with ties to a wealthy campaign donor.
“So you thought the best way to avoid a misrepresentation was to lie?” Wzorek asked.
In this case, yes, replied the mayor. Pawlowski said he was concerned about how Ruchlewicz was talking about a contract in the same conversation as a donor and how that might be perceived.
“In context, he was working for you,” Pawlowski said of Ruchlewicz, who began cooperating with the FBI in 2014. “He was doing everything he could to make things sound wrong and set me up.”
The FBI interviewed the mayor on July 2, 2015, as agents were serving search warrants on city hall and the mayor’s home. Referring to a transcript of the nearly three-hour interview, Wzorek noted several times in which Pawlowski told two agents that he didn’t meet with vendors during the bidding process and stayed far away from the bidding and contracting processes.
“Specifically, so I don’t have to have this conversation with you,” he told the FBI in 2015.
But Wzorek told the jury the mayor failed to tell the FBI during that July 2015 interview about a breakfast meeting he had only months before with Patrick Regan, former vice president of The Efficiency Network or TEN. The firm landed a roughly $3 million streetlight contract that investigators allege Pawlowski directed toward TEN because of Regan’s political ties in the Pittsburgh area.
Wzorek noted how Pawlowski testified the day before how he remembered TEN was a spinoff from the company, Constellation, and how Regan once ran for statewide office. The mayor also remembers how many streetlights are in the city and how much garbage is collected every day, he said.
But he forgot a breakfast that he had with a bidder months earlier, Wzorek said.
“It was a very intense conversation … I obviously didn’t remember the meeting with Regan, so I didn’t mention it,” Pawlowski said of his conversation with the FBI.
The prosecution also referenced a recorded conversation in which Ruchlewicz tells the mayor that he’d been working for three months with the city’s former managing director and James Hickey, a business consultant, on the city’s streetlight project request for proposal or RFP.
“Are Jim Hickey or Sam Ruchlewicz city employees?” Wzorek asked.
“No,” the mayor replied.
“When Sam said he was working on the RFP, that didn’t make you stop and think, ‘Sam’s working on an RFP? He doesn’t work for the city,’” Wzorek said.
Investigators allege that the administration manipulated the streetlight contract from the start by allowing TEN’s request for qualification or RFQ to be considered despite being submitted late. Ruchlewicz has been heard in a March 2015 secret conversation telling the mayor that TEN’s submission was late and Pawlowski asking “did you take care of it.”
Wzorek asked the mayor why he asked Ruchlewicz whether he had addressed the problem and why his campaign aide would even know the submission was late in the first place.
Pawlowski couldn’t explain why he asked Ruchlewicz whether he’d taken care of the problem or why he would have known the RFQ was late. The mayor testified Ruchlewicz previously mentioned Hickey worked with TEN and assumed that’s where he got the information.
Hickey has already pleaded guilty to his role in the alleged pay-to-play scandal.
The prosecution noted Pawlowski testified several times about wanting to avoid even the impression of impropriety. Wzorek reminded the jury that the mayor ate dinner at Del Frisco’s steakhouse in Philadelphia with Sean Kilkenny and John Rodgers in January 2014 as the two were bidding on a contract to collect Allentown’s delinquent tax collection.
“That was you eating a steak paid for by Kilkenny and Rodgers, who were bidding on a contract with Allentown,” Wzorek said.
Pawlowski told the jury he didn’t know Rodgers’ firm, Northeast Revenue Services was bidding on the contract, despite Ruchlewicz being heard on tape saying the RFP was discussed at dinner.
Allentown City Council is set to vote on a resolution Wednesday to officially thank the FBI and prosecutors for helping rid the city of corruption.Read More »
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The interviews will begin Tuesday night and conclude Thursday when city council will vote. A decision on if Ray O'Connell will be allowed to stay on the list is expected Tuesday night as well.Read More »
The list of people applying to be interim mayor of Allentown is long. Among them are businessmen, a life coach, a professional chef, and a few engineers.Read More »
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