Former Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski has learned his fate for participating in pay-to-play politics.
Federal Judge Juan Sanchez on Tuesday sentenced Pawlowski to up to 15 years in federal prison following his conviction in the six-week corruption trial in which the jury found he lied to federal investigators and traded city contracts for campaign donations.Pawlowski was sentenced Tuesday to 180 months or 15 years in prison Tuesday afternoon.
A jury convicted Pawlowksi in March on 47 of 54 charges into allegations of pay-to-play politics in Allentown City Hall. The judge has since dismissed and the prosecution has dropped a combined nine charges.
"Ed Pawlowski's lengthy prison sentence today will hopefully send a clear message to current and future elected officials that corrupting an office of public trust for your own selfish political goals will not be tolerated, and if you are caught it has severe consequences," said former FBI Special Agent and lead case agent Scott Curtis.
Jurors also convicted co-defendant Scott Allinson, an attorney formerly with the firm Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, with single counts of conspiracy and bribery. Investigators had alleged Allinson conspired with the mayor and his campaign staff to generate donations from members of his law firm in exchange for promises of funneling city legal work his way.
The judge on Tuesday also ordered that Pawlowski pay $93,749 in restitution to the city of Allentown and to vendors that prosecutors say were cheated out of a fair and open bidding process.
The prosecution asked that Pawlowski be immediately taken into custody. Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek argued Pawlowski now represented a greater flight risk given the lengthy prison term. Defense attorney Jack McMahon asked the judge to release his client on bail pending an appeal.
McMahon said he client no longer has the means to flee and that he's attended every hearing since his arraignment. The defense argued that it's confident in an appeal that will show the evidence presented at trial didn't support the conviction.
Pawlowski, who stood motionless as the judge imposed sentence, was led from the courtroom in handcuffs. His wife, Lisa, who appeared not to react as her husband was sentenced, huddled closely with her children and supporters as Pawlowski was led out.
In explaining his sentence, Sanchez told the court that Pawlowski betrayed the public trust which carried significant weight when considering the prison term. The former mayor's ambitions for higher office struck at the foundations of democracy and deprived the people of Allentown an open and fair process, the judge said.
Sanchez said he believed Pawlowski thought he was above the law and said he was disappointed by the defendant's statement to the court. He showed no remorse despite overwhelming evidence at trial that masterminded a pay-to-play scheme for higher office, the judge said.
Pawlowski resigned his office a week after the verdict, and Norris McLaughlin announced shortly after the verdict was reached that it had "severed" its relationship with Allinson. U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez in June sentenced Allinson to 27 months in prison.
The FBI's investigation into city hall first became public in July 2015, when agents served a subpoena and searched the controller's office, mayor's office, information technology department and other city offices.
The first city official to fall was former assistant city Solicitor Dale Wiles, who pleaded guilty in November 2015 to his role in rigging the bidding process for a contract to collect Allentown's delinquent real estate taxes.
Despite the winning law firm initially submitting what was considered the weakest proposal, investigators said the committee manipulated the process, so that the firm which also happened to be a Pawlowski campaign donor received the contract.
In January 2016, Garret Strathearn, Allentown's former finance director, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in connection with the alleged bid rigging of the delinquent tax collection contract. He resigned from his post less than two months before the FBI raid of city hall.
Prosecutors said Strathearn stepped in to replace a committee member, who gave the eventual winning bidder the lowest score. He allegedly told Wiles that the bidding process was being rigged at the mayor's behest, who was dissatisfied with the campaign contributions coming in from the city's then delinquent tax collector.
Prosecutors said during the trial that the winning firm offered Pawlowski political and donor connections in Montgomery County and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area. Federal authorities said Strathearn and Wiles falsified bidding records to make it appear the firm won the contract based on its merits.
Mary Ellen Koval in January 2016 resigned her post as Allentown's elected controller about two months after winning her second term in office. Then she appeared in federal court days after Strathearn and pleaded guilty to her role in the rigging the tax collection contract.
Pawlowski was dealt a major blow in April 2016 when Michael Fleck, his campaign manager and long-time confidant, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion and bribery. Fleck moved out of the Lehigh Valley days after agents searched city hall.
Shortly after federal prosecutors announced charges against the four-term mayor, Pawlowski defense attorney, Jack McMahon, vigorously proclaimed his client's innocence, welcoming the fact that the FBI had accumulated hundreds of recordings that included Pawlowski, Fleck and former campaign aide Sam Ruchlewicz.
McMahon and Allinson's attorneys argued during a pre-trial hearing to dismiss the indictments due to a lack of evidence. McMahon also argued that the prosecution purposely misled a grand jury in an effort to secure an indictment, a tactic he ratcheted up during the six-week trial held in Allentown.