Lehigh Valley

Matthew Sorrentino says he didn't expect work in exchange for Pawlowski donation

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Defense attorneys and prosecutors in the Allentown federal bribery trial offered very different interpretations Wednesday afternoon of a May 2015 meeting between the mayor and potential donors.

Matthew Sorrentino, chairman of the law firm Norris McLaughlin, returned to the witness stand Wednesday to answer additional questions about his May 20, 2015 meeting with Mayor Ed Pawlowski, his campaign manager Michael Fleck and campaign aide Lisa Rossi at the firm’s Allentown office.

Also attending the meeting was attorney Scott Allinson, the mayor’s co-defendant who stands accused of trying to funnel city legal work to his firm in exchange for campaign donations.

Allinson’s attorneys are expected to call a few character witnesses and rest their defense Thursday morning. Pawlowski’s attorney Jack McMahon is scheduled to begin his defense Thursday, and the mayor may take the stand on Tuesday.

Defense attorney William Winning on Wednesday morning played the roughly 40-minute secret recording in which the mayor is heard making his case as a potential U.S. Senate candidate against Republican Sen. Pat Toomey and asking Sorrentino for his help in raising about $25,000 by June 30, 2015.

Sorrentino testified he made a $3,800 donation because he believed the work Pawlowski had done in Allentown warranted his support and that he thought the mayor would be able to work in a bipartisan manner in Washington D.C.

In response to a question from Winning, Sorrentino said he didn’t expect work for his firm in return, nor did he recall getting any.

 

 

He also testified that he eventually rescinded his donation after it became “common knowledge” that Fleck “packed up and left town.” He told the jury his credit card record showed the online campaign donation went to “M. Fleck at H Street Strategies.” Pawlowski has often accused his former campaign manager of stealing from his campaign fund.

“So, you had some concern your money didn’t go to the Pawlowski campaign?” Winning said.

Later on in cross-examination, Asst. U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek produced a campaign finance report signed by the mayor’s wife that the campaign had indeed received the $3,800.

During his questioning of Sorrentino, McMahon read from the government’s indictment alleging the mayor asked for a $25,000 donation at that meeting and talked about Norris McLaughlin receiving more legal contract trust work from Allentown.

“Do you know why they put a false statement in their indictment?” McMahon asked, eliciting a vehement objection from the prosecution.

“Did that happen?” McMahon asked.

“It did not,” Sorrentino replied, testifying there was never an explicit agreement to trade donations for work.

During his cross-examination, Wzorek focused on a conversation that was heard after the mayor officially made his pitch and asked for a donation. It centered on securing a loan for one of Sorrentino’s clients that hoped to purchase a building in the lucrative Neighborhood Improvement Zone or the NIZ.

Earlier testimony revealed that the client needed a status update from state officials on available funding before the option to purchase the building lapsed. Fleck is heard asking Sorrentino whether he needed anything from the mayor, and Sorrentino responds by asking “how’s my client doing?”

Minutes after asking for a $25,000 donation, the mayor is heard talking about what he was doing on behalf of one of Sorrentino’s clients, which could lead to more work for the firm, Wzorek argued.

Winning argued vehemently that Wzorek completely mischaracterized the situation. He said the mayor had no control over the state process, and Sorrentino testified that he was merely asking Pawlowski for an update on conversations the mayor already had with state officials.

Defense witnesses testified earlier that it was Sorrentino, not Allinson, who asked members of the firm to consider donating to the mayor’s Senate campaign. Sorrentino testified during cross-examination that Allinson had asked him to inquire as to whether people would be willing to donate.

“You? The CEO, the boss,” Wzorek replied.

Investigators have alleged that Allinson worked with Pawlowski’s campaign aides to secure for Norris McLaughlin an appointment for the Allentown Parking Authority solicitor. Specifically, Richard Somach came up in secret recordings as the attorney that would be appointed.

On Wednesday, Wzorek asked Sorrentino whether he was surprised to learn in July 2015 that Allinson, Somach and Norris McLaughlin appeared on an FBI search warrant for Allentown City Hall. When asked why the firm ended up on an FBI warrant, Allinson reportedly told Sorrentino that the only thing he could surmise is that it had something to do with the parking authority, according to Sorrentino’s testimony.

Wzorek puzzled over why Allinson would bring up the parking authority or why Sorrentino would later ask Somach about it, when the authority did not appear in the search warrant.

Sorrentino testified that Allinson claimed Pawlowski's campaign aide, Sam Ruchlewicz, said the authority may have been preparing to seek proposals for the solicitor position.

Wzorek also questioned Sorrentino about Somach giving Pawlowski free use of his vacation home in Key West, Florida.

“Your firm was doing business with the City of Allentown, right?” Wzorek asked.

“Correct,” Sorrentino replied.

“And Mr. Somach was giving freebies to the mayor?” Wzorek said.

Sorrentino told jurors that he spoke with Somach about whether the mayor needed to pay for using the Key West home, and they agreed that he did.

When asked whether the mayor paid to use Somach’s house, Sorrentino said he didn’t know.
Somach testified on Tuesday that the mayor hadn’t paid to use his house.


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