The mayor of Pennsylvania’s third-largest city “sold his office” to campaign donors, trading city contracts for cash to fuel his political ambitions, a prosecutor told jurors Monday in the mayor’s federal corruption trial.
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski rigged a series of contracts to go to law firms and businesses that supported his campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate, retaliated against vendors that refused to play along or didn’t give sufficiently and tried to hide his tracks, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek said in his opening statement.
“If you wanted a contract in the city of Allentown under Mayor Pawlowski, you had to pay,” he said. “The fix was in.”
Pawlowski, 51, who began a fourth term this month, faces an indictment that includes dozens of accusations of fraud, bribery, attempted extortion and lying to the FBI. The most serious charges carry a maximum prison term of 20 years each.
The mayor’s attorney, Jack McMahon, denied an illegal quid pro quo, or explicit connection between city work and campaign contributions. In his opening statement, he called the mayor a “moral person” and accused prosecutors of relying on “conniving, morally bankrupt” witnesses to build their case.
Pawlowski’s political consultants, Mike Fleck and Sam Ruchlewicz, cooperated with the government and secretly recorded conversations with the mayor.
Several of the tapes were played Monday as prosecutors began presenting their case.
In the recordings, Pawlowski is heard complaining about a law firm that gave him a campaign contribution of only $100 after he awarded the firm millions of dollars in legal work.
“It’s kind of like a slap in the face,” he said.
Stevens & Lee had been seeking additional work. But Pawlowski said he wanted $5,000 from the firm “at the very least” before it could get back in his good graces.
Jonathan Saidel, a former Philadelphia city controller who met with the mayor while trying to drum up business for Stevens & Lee, told jurors he found Pawlowski’s talk about city work and campaign cash to be “blatant, amateurish and sad.” He said he didn’t want to be involved in a “quid pro quo.”
“I wanted to pick him up and throw him against the wall,” Saidel, whose meeting with the mayor was captured on tape, told jurors.
The day’s other witness, Stevens & Lee attorney Donald Wieand, described a 2015 phone call from Pawlowski in which the mayor told him he’d be hearing from Allentown’s chief lawyer — which Wieand took to mean the firm was going to get city work. Wieand said Pawlowski then asked for a $1,000 donation to his Senate campaign.
The lawyer said he agreed to send a check, then had second thoughts.
“What have I gotten myself into?” he told jurors, describing his mindset. “Now I’m in a pay-to-play situation, and I was uncomfortable. I didn’t want any part of that.”
He said he never sent the check.
Wzorek, the prosecutor, alleged that Pawlowski rigged millions of dollars in contracts for legal, engineering, technology and construction work.
Worried about getting caught, the mayor twice had his office swept for listening devices, told city workers to use their personal email accounts to conduct business and talked about getting disposable “burner” phones, he said.
A co-defendant, lawyer Scott Allinson, is charged with bribing Pawlowski for legal work for his firm. He has pleaded not guilty.