The president of Reading City Council admitted Wednesday that he took a bribe in return for his effort to repeal the city's campaign finance law, and his attorney said the money came from a consultant for the mayor's re-election campaign.
Francisco Acosta, 39, pleaded guilty in federal court in Philadelphia to a charge that he accepted the $1,800 bribe to help the campaign of a political ally, identified by his lawyer as Acosta's wife. She ran unsuccessfully for district judge.
Court documents do not identify the public official who offered the bribe, but they said the official had the power to sign city council legislation into law. The only person with that power is first-term Mayor Vaughn Spencer, whose home was raided last month by the FBI.
Spencer is a Democrat who lost his primary bid for re-election and whose term ends at year's end. He has not been charged.
He did not return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment, and his attorney had no comment when reached by The Morning Call.
"Public Official No. 1," as court documents described the person offering the bribe, had taken campaign contributions that violated the city's campaign finance law, prosecutors said. The law sets limits on contributions and prohibits the awarding of no-bid contracts to campaign donors whose contributions exceed the limits.
The official believed that "his best chance of winning re-election would require keeping these contributions and raising additional funds which would be prohibited by the code of ethics," according to the court documents.
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Acosta's attorney, Robert Goldman, said the official referred to in the court filings is the mayor. He told the AP that the money Acosta took came from a consultant for the mayor's re-election campaign.
The official offered a "loan" that would be "forgiven" if Acosta orchestrated passage of a bill repealing the law, prosecutors said.
Acosta introduced the repeal bill on April 13, three days after taking the $1,800 check, court documents said.
The FBI interviewed Acosta on April 21 and he immediately withdrew from the conspiracy and accepted responsibility, prosecutors said. Acosta then recused himself from the repeal vote, which was defeated unanimously.
"He had tremendous remorse for what he did and wanted to do whatever he could do to rectify the situation," Goldman said. "He readily owned up to taking the money."
Acosta is due to be sentenced on Nov. 18 on a charge of conspiracy to commit bribery. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
A week after raiding Reading's city hall and Spencer's home, federal agents also searched Allentown city hall, seizing documents pertaining to that city's contract review and bidding process — and questioned the mayor and top manager.
The campaign manager for Spencer was also a longtime consultant to Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, most recently serving as the manager of Pawlowski's now-suspended U.S. Senate campaign.
Reading is the state's fifth-largest city with a population of about 88,000.