Allentown, Pa., council to weigh mayor’s removal after conviction on 47 federal counts

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The Allentown, Pa., City Council has scheduled a special meeting March 15 to discuss the removal of Mayor Ed Pawlowski, whom a federal jury convicted on 47 corruption counts.

“The purpose of meeting shall be to hold a public hearing to determine whether there has been malfeasance by [Pawlowski] to warrant [his] removal from the office of mayor,” said a notice on the council’s website.

The city’s home rule charter enables such a move.

On March 1, a jury in Allentown, following a six-week trial, convicted the mayor on 47 of 54 counts that focused on a pay-for-play scheme involving city contracts and other business.

Charges included bribery, conspiracy, lying to FBI officials, attempted extortion, mail fraud, wire fraud and honest services fraud.

The verdict, which followed only 14 hours of deliberation, surprised Pawlowski's defense attorney. “We thought we presented an excellent case that proved the mayor’s innocence,” said Jack McMahon, who is weighing an appeal.

Pawlowski, a former candidate for Pennsylvania governor and the U.S. Senate, won a fourth term in November. He remains free on bond. Sentencing may take up to several months. He has not said whether he will resign, as Gov. Tom Wolf and others have requested.

The jury also convicted Allentown lawyer Scott Allinson on two counts of conspiracy and bribery.

During the trial, Pawlowski testified for two days and denied any pay-to-play involvement. Prosecutors during cross-examination played tapes, including the mayor confronting his former campaign manager and the primary witness for the FBI, Mike Fleck, about wearing a wire days before the bureau raided City Hall in July 2015.

Allentown under Pawlowski’s watch launched several economic development initiatives, two of which, considered together, won The Bond Buyer’s Northeast Deal of the Year award in 2013.

The Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority sold $224.4 million in bonds to finance the construction of a downtown business district, centered around an 8,500-seat arena, the PPL Center. To help seal a steep unfunded pension liability, Allentown leased its water and sewer system to the quasi-public Lehigh County Authority, which sold $308 million of bonds to finance the transaction.

Separately, the city built a minor-league baseball park.

"Investors like stability in city government and may look for other comparable cities for an investment," said Villanova School of Business professor David Fiorenza. "However, the economic development has been established with arts, culture and entertainment and should not affect the minor league teams of baseball and hockey,"

New business ventures, said Fiorenza, may look to neighboring communities such as Bethlehem instead of Allentown "until more stability arrives at City Hall's doorsteps."

Pawlowski, via Facebook, has asked supporters to write letters to the court requesting sentencing leniency.

"All we're doing is seeking people who know his character, his background, tremendous things he's done both politically for the city and personally for members of the community," said McMahon.

“The jury has held Mayor Pawlowski accountable for selling his office to the highest bidder to fund his personal ambitions," United States Attorney Louis D. Lappen said in a statement after the verdict. "Thinking only of himself, he deprived Allentown residents of their right to receive honest and faithful services from their municipal government. The mayor then tried to cover up his crimes by destroying evidence, lying to the FBI agents who were investigating him, and lying to the federal jurors who heard his case."

The verdict pleased former council president Ray O’Connell. “Justice has finally been served,” he told reporters. “The black cloud has finally been removed.”

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Corruption Community development districts Ed Pawlowski City of Allentown, PA Pennsylvania