Allentown mayor Ed Pawlowski heard cheers and chants from the crowd as he faced the media Wednesday afternoon after being indicted on federal corruption charges.
"I want to make it clear to everyone," Pawlowski said with his lawyer Jack McMahon by his side. "I have done nothing wrong. Nor have I ever personally accepted a dime beyond my salary as mayor. I have also never accepted anything but legal campaign contributions and in no way, shape or form was city hall ever up for sale."
Both Pawlowski and former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer are accused of engaging in a series of pay-to-play schemes where the politicians shook down businesses and individuals for campaign contributions in exchange for political favors, according to court papers released Wednesday.
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Pawlowski and Spencer have been charged with multiple counts of bribery and fraud, according to indictments that accuse the two Democrats of handing lucrative city contracts to donors who showered them with cash and gifts.
"Pawlowski and Spencer essentially put a for-sale sign up in front of city hall in Reading and in Allentown to sell their office and their services to the highest bidder," said Acting U.S. Attorney Louis Lappen.
Prosecutors allege Pawlowski attempted to steer city contracts for jobs such as streetlight upgrades, a cyber security deal and other legal work toward those who gave him money from 2012 to 2015. He tried to cover his tracks by deleting emails between himself and the donors he squeezed as well as having his office "swept" for listening devices he believed were installed by law enforcement, according to court papers.
Pawlowski has denied any wrongdoing and also said he has no plan to resign while fighting the charges.
"I have a job to do and I will continue to do it," Pawlowski said. "And that includes my candidacy for reelection."
Spencer, who became Reading's mayor in 2012, sought to keep large sums of money flowing to his 2015 re-election campaign and is reported to have made clear to donors he would use the power of his office to punish donors who didn't provide satisfactory cash contributions, prosecutors said. In one instance, Spencer agreed to award a contract worth $227,000 to an engineering firm after a representative for the company told him he would receive a $1,500 contribution and four tickets to a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game.
The federal investigation of the two city governments became public in 2015 when FBI agents raided both city halls as well as the homes of Pawlowski and Spencer. It began in 2013 and previously led to charges against a slew of lower-ranking city officials and contractors, including Pawlowski's former political consultant and friend Mike Fleck who pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and bribery and one count of tax evasion. Pawlowski spoke on Fleck while reading his statement Wednesday.
"I do however deeply regret putting my trust in a manipulative thief and historical liar in the name of Mike Fleck, who is my former campaign manager and family friend," Pawlowski said. "I trust the judicial system to sort out the facts from the fiction so that you can see that I am the mayor and the man that you all know me to be."
The indictments also named three others, including the former Reading school board president.
No attorney was listed in court documents for Spencer.
Allentown is Pennsylvania's third largest city and Reading is the state's fifth largest.
TIMELINE LEADING UP TO INDICTMENT
- July, 2015: Federal agents raid Allentown City Hall and Mayor Pawlowski’s home
- August, 2015-June, 2017: Seven people plead guilty in the case
- January, 2016: Allentown City Council votes no confidence in Mayor Pawlowski, calls for him to resign
- January, 2017: Mayor Pawlowski announces he’s running for a fourth term in office despite ongoing FBI investigation