ALLENTOWN, Pa. - In accusing Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski of bribery and corruption, federal prosecutors have told jurors about his use of burner phones, talking in code, expressing concern about putting anything in writing and the need to purge files in the days before an FBI raid on city hall.
“These are not things you do unless you are doing something wrong, unless you are doing something illegal,” Asst. U.S. Attorney Michelle Morgan said.
The prosecution and defense attorneys for Pawlowski and attorney Scott Allinson made their closing arguments Tuesday as the government’s six-week pay-to-play trial against the mayor and Allinson comes to a close.
Morgan and William Winning, Allinson’s attorney, made their closing arguments to the jury Tuesday morning into the early afternoon. Pawlowski's defense attorney Jack McMahon will make his closing arguments after lunch.
Investigators have accused Pawlowski of quid pro quo or offering favors and contracts in exchange for campaign contributions. In her closing arguments, Morgan noted that McMahon has repeatedly told the jury that the mayor has never been heard on tape explicitly linking a contract to a donation request or clearly seeking a bribe.
“There doesn’t have to be,” Morgan said. “There are no magic words.”
"Why? Because frankly few people are stupid enough to say it out loud. It can be a wink or a nod,” she said.
Morgan told the jury that Pawlowski sat on the witness stand and lied to them “hour after hour, day after day.”
“He lied so much he doesn’t know when he’s lying anymore,” she said.
The biggest lie he told came during his July 2015 interview with the FBI when he said he was shocked that the FBI was investigating him, that he had no idea what was going on and that he was confused by the agents’ questions about city business and his campaign, Morgan said.
Yet, he spent three days before the FBI interview obsessing about going to jail and talking about purging his files and the files of campaign staff Michael Fleck and Sam Ruchlewicz, she said.
The defense has worked to paint Fleck, the mayor’s campaign manager, and Ruchlewicz, his campaign aide, as the masterminds behind a plan to shakedown vendors in exchange for donations to the mayor’s campaigns. Morgan argued the defense subsequently painted the mayor as “poor Mr. Pawlowski” who had no idea was going on or had any idea what his campaign staff was doing.
The defense claimed Pawlowski had no idea Fleck or Ruchlewicz were bad people despite warnings from the people around him, Morgan said.
But investigators logged 1,260 phone calls between the two over a three-month period, noting they vacationed together, watched each other’s children and spent holidays together.
“And you’re supposed to buy the idea that he had no idea what Mike Fleck is all about?” Morgan asked.
In his opening statement, McMahon called Fleck and Ruchlewicz greedy reprobates and has depicted them as horrible lying thieves, Morgan said.
“Members of the jury, this is not a popularity contest,” she said. “You may not like Michael Fleck or Sam Ruchlewicz. You may think they are repugnant. This is who he hired. This is who he wanted to run his campaign.”
Morgan summarized for the jury the nine schemes in which the mayor allegedly participated and the charges jurors will be asked to consider for each.
Among the schemes is an allegation that the mayor directed city staff to steer a contract to McTish Kunkel for inspection work on a Basin Street safety improvement project. A review committee had been leaning toward another firm, when the former public works director suggested the city give another firm a try, a qualification Morgan said is not found anywhere in a request for proposal.
She also reminded jurors that the former public works director was told that the mayor said he owed Mathew McTish a favor, and that Ruchlewicz reminded the mayor to ask McTish for a donation to his annual holiday party after landing the Basin Street project.
“We gave him a contract, so he owes us a donation,” Morgan said. “Quid pro quo. That’s his mindset.”
Investigators have also alleged the mayor directed a contract to collect Allentown’s delinquent taxes to Northeast Revenue Services. The firm had deep connections to political donors in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area and was partnering with attorney Sean Kilkenny, who offered access to Democratic donors in Montgomery County.
Michelle Portnoff, founder of the firm that previously collected the city’s delinquent taxes, testified earlier in the trial that she felt uncomfortable when Pawlowski called her for a donation even though her proposal was pending. She testified that she was concerned her decision not to donate could hurt her chances.
“It turns out, she was right,” Morgan told the jury.
Kilkenny testified that he too was asked to donate and felt pressured to write a check for $2,500.
The mayor has been heard several times on secret recordings complaining about the lack of campaign contributions coming from firms that received city contracts. One such complaint was lodged at Northeast Revenue, prompting the mayor to tell his campaign staff, “It’s easy to go back to Portnoff.”
“’It’s easy to go back to Portnoff.’ That’s the quid pro quo mentality right there,” Morgan said.
The prosecution has laid out allegations that Pawlowski had staff find a contract – any contract – for wealthy New York City real estate developer Jack Rosen in hopes he would help the mayor raise as much as $1 million for Pawlowski’s U.S. Senate campaign.
Secret recordings reveal the two discussing city business and donations during the same meetings, something prosecutors allege the mayor did with regularity. They can be heard discussing when it was time to stop talking about city business and moving onto discussions about the mayor’s campaign, which Morgan told the jurors was a “big red flag waving in your face” that they’re discussing pay-to-play.
The $35,000 no-bid cybersecurity contract the city awarded to 5C, a firm with ties to Rosen, was never executed after the July 2015 FBI raid on city hall. Pawlowski has testified that the contract was never executed because 5C failed to provide the proper insurance.
“Where was the follow up to get the right insurance?” Morgan asked. “Where was the follow up to continue with this critically important cyber security contract?”
In the days leading up to the FBI raid and Pawlowski’s interview with agents, he was heard discussing potential issues with his campaign staff. Specifically, he was heard talking about the need to redraw the lines between his campaign and city business that had grown blurry.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you don’t need to redraw a line that you’ve never crossed,” Morgan argued.
Allinson faces single counts of bribery and conspiracy for allegedly trying to steer legal work from the city to his firm, Norris McLaughlin, in exchange for campaign contributions. Investigators specifically allege he wanted credit for bringing the work into the firm, which resulted in more money to him.
Winning in his closing argued that prosecutors haven’t provided a single shred of evidence to show Allinson and Pawlowski entered into an agreement to trade legal work for donations. In fact, the firm didn’t receive any legal work from the city in 2015, he said.
Allinson donated $1,600 to Pawlowski campaigns between 2012 and 2015, according to Winning. He didn’t donate anything to the mayor’s gubernatorial run in 2014 and only $250 in 2015 for Pawlowski’s annual Mardi Gras celebration, Winning told the jury.
“I don’t think anyone would reasonably argue that paying $250 for two tickets to attend a Mardi Gras event would constitute a bribe,” he said.
Winning noted for the jury that Fleck and Ruchlewicz leaned on Allinson for a $10,000 donation and reminded jurors about the seemingly adversarial relationship the mayor’s campaign staff appeared to have with Allinson.
Winning pointed to secret recordings in which the two called Allinson a “heartless chicken,” a “bastard” and an “a—hole” over his refusal to donate. He also reminded jurors about Fleck’s threats to “pound” his client.
“If Scott Allinson was in cahoots with these people … why was it necessary for Ruchlewiz and Fleck to say that they needed to beat the (expletive) out of him or pound the (expletive) out of him?” Winning asked.
Because Allinson never had any intention of bribing the mayor, Winning said, arguing it at least shows a reasonable doubt that Allinson ever had any intention of participating in a conspiracy to bribe the mayor.
And no matter how many times Ruchlewicz discussed with Allinson the prospect of being appointed solicitor of the Allentown Parking Authority, Allinson never made a donation, Winning told the jury.
“If he wanted to bribe the mayor, he could just write a check and be done with it,” Winning said.
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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