Federal corruption trial of former Reading mayor underway

 

Former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer has been ordered to prison for his role in a case of pay-to-play politics that had him trading city contracts for campaign donations.

A federal judge in Philadelphia on Wednesday sentenced Spencer, 71, to eight years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. He is due to report for prison on June 13.

"Today is a somber day," First Asst. U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier-Williams told 69 News after the sentencing. "It does not feel like a victory to send a public official away to prison, but it is so critically important that the public see that we are pursuing corruption cases like this one."

The U.S. attorney's office had asked for a prison sentence of 121 to 151 months, noting the "appalling" nature of Spencer's actions.

Spencer's attorney asked for leniency, saying it was the mayor's campaign advisers who led the pay-to-play scheme.

"It's sad that there's any sentence at all," said Spencer's attorney, Geoffrey Johnson. "We're going to consider our options and, after we consider our actions, we'll see if further action is warranted."

Spencer, who has 14 days to appeal his sentence, was also ordered to pay a fine of $35,000, with $10,000 due immediately.

"I really apologize to what the citizens of Reading had to deal with through this ordeal, and I'm sorry for the position I may have put people in," Spencer told WFMZ's Jim Vasil after he learned his sentence.

During the hearing, Spencer took the witness stand and first apologized for his actions.

"I acknowledge sincere regret," Spencer said. "I failed to be the inspiration I said I would be and I'm sorry."

Spencer, who served as Reading's mayor from 2012 until 2016, was found guilty by a jury in August of federal bribery and related charges. He has remained free in the months that followed that guilty verdict.

"I've spent a lot of time thinking after my conviction," an emotional Spencer continued. "I feel like I let people down."

Spencer traded city contracts for campaign donations and bribed former city council President Francis Acosta to try and repeal the city's anti-pay-to-play ordinance, according to federal investigators.

"Most public officials serve honorably and honestly," Arbittier-Williams said, "but if you are an elected official and you are taking bribes in exchange for official acts, we will investigate you, we will prosecute you, we will convict you and we will send you to prison."

The feds alleged that Spencer made it clear to donors he would withhold official action from individuals and businesses that didn't provide satisfactory campaign contributions for his 2015 re-election effort.

"I'm embarrassed by the shame I brought to my family," Spencer said.

Spencer's 62-year-old brother, Gary Spencer, testified at Wednesday's hearing, telling the court that Vaughn Spencer is a good person who has always been there when he needed him.

"Vaughn Spencer had great potential," Arbittier-Williams said. "He was a public school teacher who was elected mayor and he had the ability to do such good, but he squandered that because of greed and ambition, and now he's going away to prison for eight years."

The former mayor also apologized for the impact the ordeal has had on Eron Lloyd, his one-time aide who was ordered earlier this month to serve five years of probation and pay a $7,500 fine for his 2015 guilty plea to a charge of conspiracy to commit bribery.

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