The corruption trial of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski entered its 18th day Wednesday with the star witness taking the stand — Pawlowski himself.
Defense attorney Jack McMahon promised during opening arguments last month that his client would “bare his soul” on the stand, even though he was under no obligation to testify.
Pawlowski didn’t quite bare his soul, but he did deflect blame to campaign aides Mike Fleck and Sam Ruchlewicz, who made false promises to donors in exchange for campaign contributions.
At one point in his daylong testimony, Pawlowski told jurors he was incensed after discovering in June 2015 that Ruchlewicz told an Allentown developer that the city purchased a building for the developer to rezone when, in fact, it hadn’t.
“That was the moment everything changed for me,” Pawlowski said. “I said, ‘Oh my God, this is the type of stuff that people go to jail for, and I don’t want any part of it.’ ”
Latest sketch of Pawlowski on the stand pic.twitter.com/DyZBX7JEHe
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Pawlowski is charged with 54 counts of corruption, including bribery, conspiracy, fraud, extortion, and lying to the FBI. He has pleaded not guilty.
Under questioning by McMahon, Pawlowski said over and over again that his requests for campaign contributions from donors to fund his failed U.S. Senate run were in no way connected to any contracts or services awarded to them. He admitted he paid them extra attention, but he said that was all part of providing constituent services.
Pawlowski explained that the contributors in question were “historical donors,” longtime donors who have contributed to his mayoral campaigns over the years, so it made sense to give them more attention and greater access.
The prosecution’s case is based on hundreds of hours of FBI recordings from wires that Fleck and Ruchlewicz wore during the investigation. Fleck has already pleaded guilty to bribery and tax evasion.
Earlier in the trial, jurors heard testimony about Pawlowski’s attempts to cover up his actions by instructing his staff to delete emails and sweeping his office for listening devices installed by the FBI.
Pawlowski explained he was concerned because Ruchlewicz was “lying to any and everybody,” promising them contracts and services that the mayor never finalized or approved. He said he didn’t want those lies to “find their way into cyberspace” where “the newspapers could write articles about them.”
Federal prosecutors accused Pawlowski of rigging contracts with city vendors and law firms to raise $1 million for a failed run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Pat Toomey in 2015.
Despite charges hanging over his head, Pawlowski, a Democrat, won a record fourth term as mayor of the commonwealth’s third-largest city in November.
The investigation has already brought down several of Pawlowski’s top administrators, including city manager Fran Dougherty.