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Allentown mayor denies campaign cash shakedown during corruption trial

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Allentown mayor testifies at corruption trial: Walter Perez reports on Action News at 6 p.m., February 21, 2018 (WPVI)

The Democratic mayor of Pennsylvania's third-largest city defended himself Wednesday against accusations that he sold his office to campaign donors, telling a jury that while he asked business executives for political money, he didn't promise them city contracts in return.

Taking the witness stand at his federal corruption trial, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski denied the government's allegation that he rigged bids to favor law firms and businesses that supported his unsuccessful runs for governor and U.S. Senate.

"I don't do pay-to-play," he said.

Pawlowski, 51, who began a fourth term last month, faces multiple charges, including fraud, bribery, attempted extortion and lying to the FBI. The most serious charges carry a maximum prison term of 20 years each.

The mayor testified about a contract for delinquent tax collection that went to Northeast Revenue, a firm whose executives had given money to his gubernatorial campaign. Pawlowski insisted he had little involvement in the contract, saying his only goal was to improve the city's bottom line.

"Honestly, I could care less. I wanted a better product," he said.

Allentown's former finance director, who pleaded guilty in the case, testified earlier in the trial that Pawlowski pressured city officials to give the contract to Northeast, and prosecutors say the bidding process was subsequently rigged. The company's executives have not been charged with wrongdoing.

Prosecutors also have the mayor on tape. Pawlowsk's former political consultants, Mike Fleck and Sam Ruchlewicz, cooperated with the government and secretly recorded conversations with the mayor.

In one tape heard by the jury, he told Fleck, his campaign manager, to tell Northeast executives to "start being helpful, like really helpful." In a separate conversation with Ruchlewicz, he threatened to yank Northeast's contract and give it back to the city's old vendor.

Pawlowski testified Wednesday that he was simply blowing off steam to a campaign aide, noting he was under intense pressure to hit fundraising targets set for him by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He said Northeast had promised to organize a fundraiser for him in a part of the state where he lacked connections with big-dollar donors, but wasn't following through.

"Anybody who has to raise money, you get frustrated after a while," Pawlowski told the jury. But "expressing that to my campaign staff and telling it to a donor are two different things."

The defense also sought to use the government tapes to its advantage.

Pawlowski's lawyer played a June 2015 conversation in which the mayor - unaware he was being recorded - complained to Ruchlewicz about an engineering executive who'd been pressuring him for city work. The executive later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery.

"He's got to bid on contracts. He's got to be reasonable. That's not the way we do business. I don't do business that way. I'm not a pay-to-play guy. And if that's the way he wants to do it, then screw him. Then I don't get anything from him. It is what it is," Pawlowski said on the tape.

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politicspennsylvania newscorruptionAllentown
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