Former Reading mayor pleads not guilty in corruption case

     Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski (left) and Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer (Images via Seven Points Consulting/Wikipedia Creative Commons and Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski (left) and Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer (Images via Seven Points Consulting/Wikipedia Creative Commons and Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    Former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer pleaded not guilty Tuesday in federal court on 11 counts of bribery and fraud in a tangled web of kickbacks that involved other city officials.

    Former Reading mayor Vaughn Spencer ambled into federal court using a walker, the result of a recent knee replacement.

    The 70-year-old Spencer was there on Tuesday to answer federal authorities’ accusations that he used the power of his office to steer contracts to engineering firms that helped bankroll his failed re-election campaign in 2015.

    Spencer’s attorney, Geoffrey Johnson, said that after years of waiting for the investigation to end, his client is ready to fight the charges.

    “All I can say is that we will not back down,” Johnson said.

    The indictment alleges that Spencer made it clear that certain city business would be conducted on a “pay-to-play basis,” and bribed City Council President Francisco Acosta to repeal of the city’s Code of Ethics – which caps individual political donations at $2,600 annually – so that Spencer could hold on to his campaign contributions.

    Acosta introduced a bill doing just that, meanwhile funneling money from Spencer to his wife Rebecca Acosta’s own political campaign fund. The rest of council, however, voted down the ordinance in spring of 2015. Acosta ultimately pleaded guilty to his involvement in the bribery scheme, and is currently serving a two-year prison term.

    The investigation also ensnared Rebecca Acosta. she is fighting authorities’ accusations that she used her position on the Reading School Board to fund her campaign for magisterial district judge. 

    The indictment against Spencer was unsealed last week at the same time as charges against Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski were made public. Federal authorities say both Spencer and Pawlowski misused their positions and power to pad their campaign coffers.

    “The mayor of Allentown and the former mayor of Reading sold their offices to the highest bidder — violating the trust and confidence of the citizens of their cities,” Acting United States Attorney Louis Lapen said last week. “Both mayors, working with other corrupt officials and businesspeople, directed lucrative contracts to companies who agreed to provide campaign contributions in exchange for work.” 

    Pawlowski , a Democrat who made a failed bid  for the U.S. Senate in 2015, vowed to fight the charges and run for a fourth mayoral term in November. 

    Spencer, who had no comment, is free on his own recognizance. A trial date is pending.


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