FBI Probe

Prosecution in corruption trial set to challenge more Pawlowski testimony

Mayor's cross-examination continues Monday

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - When asked by his defense attorney why he’d speak with two FBI agents without a lawyer, Mayor Ed Pawlowski said he had no idea what they wanted to talk about.

“I had nothing to hide, so I went and talked to them,” he said.

But the prosecution questioned why the mayor would then direct his campaign staff to insulate him, if he had nothing to hide.

“I think we need to insulate me from all this crap,” Pawlowski is heard telling his campaign manager in a secretly recorded May 2015 conversation. “That’s going to be your primary focus from now on.”

Federal prosecutors are scheduled to continue their cross-examination of the mayor 9 a.m. Monday, when the Allentown corruption trial resumes and enters its sixth week. Defense attorney Jack McMahon rested his case Thursday afternoon.

U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez told the jury as testimony concluded Thursday that he anticipates they could begin their deliberations early this week.

The prosecution cross-examined Pawlowski for about 90 minutes late Thursday afternoon, attacking the mayor’s testimony on several fronts. Asst. U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek questioned whether the mayor ever instructed campaign manager Michael Fleck and campaign aide Sam Ruchlewicz insulate him from city vendors he targeted as campaign donors.

After Pawlowski answered no, Wzorek played for the jury the secret recording in which the mayor directed Fleck to insulate him. Pawlowski countered that the recording was taken out of context in that he was telling his campaign manager that he needed “political insulation.”

The mayor testified that he was “getting beat up in the press” and that he wanted to be insulated from anything that looked “untoward.”

“Like pay-to-play?” Wzorek asked.

“I wanted to be insulated from anything that had political ramifications,” Pawlowski said.

“Pay-to-play would certainly have political ramifications,” replied Wzorek.

The prosecution revisited a secret recording made only days before the July 2, 2015, raid on Allentown City Hall by the FBI. In that recording, the mayor is heard talking to Fleck about purging files, including those belonging to Ruchlewicz, after Pawlowski saw a text message Ruchlewicz sent to real estate developer Ramzi Haddad.

The text messages reportedly centered on city business with Haddad, who had been a regular donor to the mayor. Pawlowski testified earlier that he was concerned about the texts, characterizing them as lies being peddled by Ruchlewicz.

But when approached by the FBI three days later, Wzorek argued, the mayor didn’t say anything to the agents about being a U.S. Senate candidate and stumbling across disturbing and potentially illegal text messages sent by a campaign aide.

In fact, Pawlowski told the agents about the other members of his campaign staff, but never once mentioned Ruchlewicz during a nearly three-hour interview, Wzorek said.

“Your career was on the line, and you didn’t say anything about Sam Ruchlewicz,” Wzorek said. “When you were given the opportunity to explain that you didn’t do anything wrong, you didn’t take it.”

Wzorek also attacked the mayor on a no-bid cybersecurity contract awarded to 5C, a firm with ties to Jack Rosen. Investigators allege Pawlowski ordered staff to find some type of contract to ingratiate himself to Rosen, a New York City real estate developer and deep-pocketed Democratic donor.

Pawlowski told FBI agents that he neither got involved with contracts, nor did he speak with vendors during the bidding process. The prosecution played two recordings in which the mayor is heard during visits with Rosen in New York discussing campaign donations and the 5C contract.

The mayor testified that when he spoke with Rosen about city business and potential development in Allentown he made it clear at some point that the conversation was shifting only to the campaign.

“And you think that’s enough?” Wzorek asked, noting Pawlowski could have gone to New York City to have only one conversation that of fundraising.

Wzorek told the jury that Pawlowski is heard in a recording after the meeting telling Ruchlewicz that he was worried about how the conversation looked and was scared about who could have been listening.

“You can separate them out in a conversation, but that doesn’t mean I like doing it,” Pawlowski responded.

Despite claiming he never talked about contracts with vendors, Wzorek pointed out that Pawlowski discussed with Rosen the 5C contract, the cost of the contract and how it fit into the city budget process, and that he told the FBI the contract was awarded a few weeks after a computer hack in the city. But he got the mayor to admit that the contract was actually awarded to 5C months, not weeks, after the city’s computer problems.

Pawlowski tried to clarify that the city started the process of finding a vendor weeks after the hack occurred.

“If you take it totally literally, it probably didn’t happen in weeks,” he said.

The prosecution also asked the mayor to explain mayor why he told Fleck on the way to visit Rosen that he had agreed to a contract he didn’t know anything about, referring to 5C.

 “I was joking around with Mike,” Pawlowski said.

Investigators have alleged the mayor engaged in a pattern of quid pro quo in trading contracts for contributions. Throughout the trial, defense attorney Jack McMahon has worked to show Pawlowski never made an explicit link between contracts and his campaign, reminding the jury that the FBI has never once played a recording in which he makes such an ask.

The FBI does, however, have recordings in which the mayor refers to targeted donors and the fact they’ve landed city contracts. And Pawlowski is heard in some those conversations complaining about the difficulty in getting contributions from some people and firms, including Spillman Farmer Architects.

In one such recording, Fleck reports to the mayor that Joe Biondo, a principal in the firm, said he wasn’t donating to Pawlowski’s U.S. Senate campaign. A campaign staffer then reminds the mayor that Spillman Farmer had recently landed a contract to design improvements to the city pools.

Pawlowski testified in his defense that he did ask Fleck to give Biondo another try because the campaign was up against a reporting deadline, and Biondo might still be a source of campaign dollars.

“He should be grateful at this point. He should be favorable to me,” the mayor said of Biondo, adding that he never told Fleck to mention the pool contract.

The defense has repeatedly attacked Fleck and Ruchlewicz as the masterminds behind efforts to lean on vendors for donations, and McMahon on Thursday again attacked the mayor’s former campaign manager as a thief.

Before moving out of the area after the FBI raid, Fleck wrote a $76,500 check out of Pawlowski’s U.S. Senate campaign fund to his campaign consulting firm, H Street Strategies. The mayor testified that the check was reported to the Federal Election Commission, which determined it may have been a criminal matter.

Fleck began cooperating with the FBI in March 2015. And during that period, the mayor paid H Street Strategies more than $100,000, according to McMahon.

“You paid $108,659 to the person who agreed to set you up,” McMahon said.

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