Sweeping for bugs and meeting with Mossad in Allentown pay-to-play

 

Mossad, bugs and construction engineers took center stage Tuesday afternoon as prosecutors in the Allentown pay-to-play trial continued attacking city contracts they allege were meant to fulfill the mayor's political aspirations.

Mayor Ed Pawlowski is facing a 55-count federal indictment on bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud charges for allegedly funneling city contracts to potential donors.

One of the contracts falling under federal scrutiny was a proposed $35,000 contract with the IT firm, Ciber. The group proposed assessing Allentown's computer systems for security risks and the potential of linking them all.

Authorities, meanwhile, allege the mayor concocted the contract as a way to curry favor with Jack Rosen, a wealthy New York developer and potentially prodigious fundraiser for Pawlowski's U.S. Senate run. The city's former Managing Director Francis Dougherty testified that the contract was set at $35,000 to escape bidding rules with plans for future phases to the contract.

Michael Hilbert is Allentown's retired communications superintendent, who oversaw the city's 911 center. He testified that Dougherty asked him to sit in on a 2014 meeting with Ciber to learn if the firm could offer anything of value to Allentown.

"I thought it was a little pie in the sky," he said. "The systems we had were very disparate."

It was at that meeting that Hilbert said he learned the firm employed former Mossad agents. Mossad is part of the Israeli intelligence services.

"I thought it was a little odd," he said. "I didn't know what our government's relationship to Mossad was at the time."

Hilbert testified that he was concerned about whether Ciber could actually help the city and about the proprietary information officials would have been asked to hand over.

"We were basically giving them the keys to our network kingdom," he said.

"So you weren't knocking on the mayor's door saying the city needed this," Asst. U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek said.

"No," Hilbert replied.

"So, this was flowing down, not up," Wzorek responded.

Hilbert was also asked about Pawlowski's request to sweep for listening devices the offices that made up the mayor's suite. He testified that Dougherty told him to find a company to do the work and make sure that he kept the cost below $4,000.

That would allow the city to contract for the work without seeking competitive bids and keeping the information from too many people, Hilbert said. The sweeps were done in May 2012 and October 2014 on a Saturday, when city hall was empty, he said.

On cross-examination by defense attorney Jack McMahon, Hilbert said former Mayor Roy Afflerbach also had his office swept once for listening devices. But Wzorek noted on redirect that Afflerbach didn't ask about sweeping his city vehicle and cell phone like Pawlowski requested.

As for the Ciber contract, McMahon characterized it as part of a larger policy initiative from the mayor that was to include the review of items such as in-car police computers and the public works department. And the initial contract was simply to review and assess the city's IT systems, not to do any kind of work, he said.

Prosecutors questioned city Engineer Mark Geosits about the reviews of three city contracts, including one for construction inspection work on the Basin Street safety improvement project. The city budgeted $90,000 for the contract. The engineering firm handling the job, McTish, Kunkel and Associates eventually earned $50,000.

Geosits testified that another bidder, Michael Baker International, scored one point higher on a bid score sheet than McTish, and that he was prepared to recommend Michael Baker for the job as he was familiar with the firm and its work.

He testified that a closer look at McTish Kunkel's request for proposal or RFP showed the firm had more experience than Michael Baker. But the city's former public works director had already told him that, "It was time to give someone else a chance," Geosits testified.

He also testified that the directive came from the administration. Federal investigators allege that's because McTish Kunkel was a Pawlowski donor.

"Where in the RFP is there a category for, 'Give someone else a chance?'" Wzorek said of the city bidding process.

McMahon seized on Geosits' testimony arguing that the two engineering firms' proposals were "pretty close" and that the city engineer was leaning toward Michael Baker "out of convenience." The city ultimately selected a qualified contractor and the proposals themselves show that the process was above board, he said.

But the process wasn't entirely above board, Wzorek argued, as Geosits was asked by a superior to consider parameters outside the official proposal.

The trial is scheduled to resume 9 a.m. Wednesday.

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