Lehigh Valley

Allentown, Reading mayors implicated in bribery, kickback scheme

Evidence against Pawlowski, Spencer, in US Justice Department legal document

PHILADELPHIA - Damning evidence -- including accusations of bribery and kickbacks -- against both Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer is in a U.S. Justice Department document released in relation to Thursday's arrest and guilty plea of Michael Fleck, the mayors' campaign consultant.

Through bribery and kickbacks, both un-indicted mayors, identified only as public officials #1 and #3 in the document, participated in a conspiracy to "defraud and deprive" their cities and citizens of honest services, according to the Justice Department.

They treated campaign contributions "as incentives and awards for past, continued and future official actions," according to the Justice Department, and "conspired and agreed to commit extortion and bribery offenses in violation of federal criminal law."

Those bribery and kickbacks involved "material misrepresentation, false statement, false pretense, concealment of fact" and using interstate wire communications "to further the scheme to defraud," states the document signed by U.S. Atty. Zane David Memeger.

It further states both mayors directed Fleck and others to help them raise campaign contributions from donors, including parties who had profited from their dealings with the mayors' cities and who sought favorable treatment from the cities. Both mayors also directed officials in their cities to give preferential treatment to certain past and potential political donors.

The legal document states former Allentown controller Mary Ellen Koval did the same thing, to maximize her chances of being re-elected in 2015.  Koval won that election, but resigned in early January before being sworn in for a second term.  Less than 10 days later, she was arrested and pleaded guilty in federal court.

Both Spencer and Pawlowski are Democrats. Last year, Spencer ran for re-election as Reading's mayor, but lost in the primary.  And Pawlowski ran for U.S. Senate at the same time he was serving as Allentown's mayor. He eventually dropped out of the Senate race.

Both men hired Fleck to help them raise campaign contributions.

According to the Justice Department, Pawlowski communicated to others -- including other Allentown officials and Fleck -- that the city would withhold favorable treatment from certain donors "who failed to provide satisfactory campaign contributions."

The document states Spencer instructed Fleck that his best chance to win re-election would be by maximizing contributions before the May 2015 primary, "even if the contributions would be in violation of Reading's Code of Ethics."

The mayors limited their interactions with certain donors "to conceal their respective roles in the conspiracy," according to the document. When donors raised concerns about having to deal with Fleck and his employees in connection with official city business, the mayors rebuffed those concerns and insisted those donors interact with Fleck and his staff.

The document also states the two mayors used telephones and the internet "to discuss, promote, manage, establish, carry on and otherwise facilitate the conspiracy."

The mayors also employed counter-surveillance maneuvers and obstructed justice, including by making false statements to FBI agents conducting the federal criminal investigation into the relationship between campaign contributions and official actions in the two cities.

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