Reading City Council President admits to conspiracy to commit bribery; Mayor connected

     Former Reading City Council President Francisco Acosta. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    Former Reading City Council President Francisco Acosta. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    Francisco Acosta pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in federal court on Wednesday.

    Francisco Acosta pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in federal court on Wednesday.

    Acosta admitted that in exchange for an $1,800 bribe, he tried to orchestrate the repeal of some of the city’s anti-corruption statutes.

    The bribe came from Sam Ruchlewicz, a subordinate of Michael Fleck, a political consultant for the campaign of Reading Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer, according to Acosta’s attorney, Robert Goldman. Ruchlewicz could not immediately be reached for comment.

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    Federal prosecutors allege Mayor Spencer also participated in the bribery scheme, according to Goldman.

    Last month, the FBI raided Spencer’s home, along with the city halls in Reading and Allentown. One common link between the two cities? Michael Fleck. He also consulted on the campaign of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski.

    The FBI issued subpoenas for records related to a number of people and entities in Reading and Allentown. Fleck and Ruchlewicz were on the lists in both cities.

    Last month, Fleck moved out of his home and shut down his consulting firm, H Street Strategies, Lehigh Valley Live reports.

    Goldman said Acosta planned to put the money into the campaign of yet another public official: his wife, Rebecca. She’s the president of the Reading School Board and ran for District Judge in Berks County. Acosta never actually deposited the check.

    Acosta knows he made a mistake, Goldman said.

    “There’s a lot of money floating around at the time of campaigns and politicians sometimes have the ability of forgetting that the laws apply to them,” he said. “The money was offered to him, he didn’t think it through, he accepted it. It was the worst decision of his life.”

    It might seem strange to some that Acosta would conspire with Mayor Spencer. The two are not generally considered allies.

    “Politics make for strange bedfellows,” Goldman said. “They were at odds with one another politically for an extensive period of time, but unfortunately for Mr. Acosta, they came to an agreement in regards to what was charged in this case.”

    At this point, Acosta is the only person involved in the bribery scheme who has been charged with a crime.

    He faces a maximum of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and three years of supervised release. He has resigned as city council president. The anti-corruption statutes were never repealed.

    The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania declined to comment on the case at this time, as did Geoffrey R. Johnson, attorney for Mayor Vaughn Spencer.

    8/6/15: This story has been updated to include the name of Michael Fleck’s subordinate, Sam Ruchlewicz.

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