Mayor Pawlowski’s federal corruption trial begins in Allentown

 Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski arrives at the federal building in Philadelphia, Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski arrives at the federal building in Philadelphia, Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

The defense of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski in his bribery trial started in dramatic fashion. Defense attorney Jack McMahon made it clear what he thought about his client’s guilt or innocence.

“Ed Pawlowski has never done anything wrong!” McMahon bellowed. And then he pointed to prosecuting attorneys and FBI agents and declared, “I tried to tell these people that! But they proceeded anyway.”

Pawlowski, a Democrat who is mayor of the commonwealth’s third-largest city, was in Allentown federal court to face a 54-count indictment — including fraud, bribery, attempted extortion, and lying to the FBI — on charges he sold his office in exchange for campaign contributions.

Despite the charges, which have hung over his head since 2015, the popular Pawlowski won an unprecedented fourth term in office in November. He has maintained his innocence.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The 12 jurors and six alternates listened as federal prosecutor Anthony Wzorek painted Pawlowski as a man with overreaching political ambition; who, after a failed run for governor in 2013-14, set a goal of raising $1 million in campaign funds over three months to run for U.S. Senate in 2015.

Wzorek accused Pawlowski  of rigging contracts with six city vendors and three law firms to line his campaign coffers. In one instance, Wzorek said Palowski gave a $35,000 contract to a company whose work the city didn’t need because the company had donated to his campaign fund.

“There was no fair competition with these contracts because the fix was in,” Wzorek said.

The prosecution’s first witness, attorney Donald Wieand of the Allentown firm Stevens & Lee, testified that during a June 2015 phone call, Pawlowski said Wieand would be getting a call from the city solicitor, and inferred that he would receive work with the city if he donated $1,000 to his Senate campaign.

“At that point, I said yes, because if I said no I would never get that call [for work],” Wieand said.

He testified that he never gave Pawlowski the money because “I didn’t want to be part of a pay-to-play situation.”

But McMahon, on cross examination, pointed out that Pawlowski never directly said that Wieand would get work if he made a campaign contribution, and that Wieand had contributed to Pawlowski’s earlier campaigns because he liked the job Pawlowski was doing as mayor.

At the heart of the case will be thousands of hours worth of tapes gathered by cooperating witnesses who wore wiretaps in an effort to bring down Pawlowski.

McMahon says he looks forward to the jury hearing the tapes, because they will reveal the guilty parties are actually Mike Fleck, Pawlowski’s former campaign advisor and friend who has already pleaded guilty; and Sam Ruchlewicz, a Fleck employee. McMahon said both manipulated contracts for their clients, and Pawlowski had no role.

“This case is real simple: It’s the Fleck and Ruchlewicz show,” McMahon said. “When Mike Fleck was confronted by the FBI in 2015, he folded like a cheap tent and agreed to wear a wire to set up a friend, and the mayor was sucked into it.”

Pawlowski’s co-defendant, Allentown attorney Scott Allinson of the firm Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, is charged with bribing Pawlowski for legal work. He has also pleaded not guilty.

Several Allentown officials who worked under Pawlowski, including his top administrator, have already pleaded guilty.

McMahon said Pawlowski will testify on his own behalf. The trial is expected to run through February.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal