Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski was elected for his fourth term in November 2017 despite having a 54-count indictment against him which alleged he traded city contracts in exchange for over $150,000 in campaign contributions. Pawlowski claimed his innocence. His trial concluded with the jury finding Pawlowski guilty of 47 of the 54 charges.
Lehigh Valley Live’s Rudy Miller says Pawlowski “was convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud, making false statements to the FBI and multiple counts of bribery, attempted extortion, mail fraud, wire fraud.” Additionally, she notes that “his convictions of conspiracy, lying to the FBI and one of his bribery convictions each carries a five-year maximum prison sentence. Each of his remaining bribery convictions carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. Each of his remaining convictions of mail fraud and wire fraud carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.”
It all began in March of 2013, when FBI Special Agent Scott Curtis transferred to the Allentown bureau office. Curtis, along with others in the office, thought Pawlowski’s business associate Sam Ruchlewicz and campaign manager Mike Fleck had committed tax and loan fraud. Upon further investigation, the agents suspected a pay-to-play scheme and began obtaining search warrants to tap Fleck’s phone in 2013 and Ruchlewicz’s phone in 2014.
The FBI confronted Ruchlewicz in June 2014 and Fleck in March 2015. Both consented to being wiretapped and cooperating with FBI investigation. The recordings from wiretaps over the years were used as evidence throughout the trial. Fleck himself, according to Morning Call reporters Emily Opilo, Peter Hall and Matt Assad, plead guilty to “one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and bribery offenses and a single count of tax evasion.” Though Ruchlewicz was not charged with a criminal offence, he did admit to taking $2,000 from Pawlowski’s and Fleck’s Allentown Future Fund.
WHYY’s Annette John-Hall reports that, “during proceedings, Pawlowski had deflected blame to campaign aides Mike Fleck and Sam Ruchlewicz, saying they made false promises to donors in exchange for campaign contributions. Pawlowski distanced himself from their actions in his testimony.”
Also involved in the case were Ramzi Haddad and Scott Allison. Haddad is an Allentown-based property owner who has plead guilty to conspiracy and bribery. Allison is an attorney who was the co-defendant in this trial. He was found guilty of two different accounts of bribery and conspiracy.
Figures from both the state and national government have spoken publicly about the ruling. U.S Attorney Louis D. Lappen said the following: “Today’s guilty verdicts send the message again to corrupt politicians that they are not above the law.”
Governor Tom Wolf’s press secretary J. J. Abbott said, “Governor Wolf has long believed Mayor Pawlowski should resign from office. He has disgraced his office and cheated the people of Allentown.”
What happens now for the Allentown mayoral position? Opilo notes that, “Allentown’s charter requires the mayor to forfeit his office if he is convicted of a second-degree misdemeanor or higher. All 54 counts Pawlowski was charged with were felonies, all higher than a misdemeanor, so one guilty verdict disqualifies him from office.”
Opilo also reports that, “State court decisions, however, have ruled that conviction does not officially occur until sentencing.” A sentencing date has yet to be announced.
Pawlowski has not officially resigned as mayor. According to Pennsylvania case law, politicians found guilty of criminal offences can keep their position until sentencing. It has yet to be seen whether or not Pawlowski will leave his position before or after he is required to do so.
After sentencing, the position will be filled by Allentown City Council President John MacLean. Opilo describes the procedure to follow: “City Council is then responsible for choosing an ‘interim mayor’ of the same political party as Pawlowski, a Democrat. That person will serve until the next municipal election, which is in November 2019. Council’s selection must be made within 30 days of the day Pawlowski vacates his position.”