ALLENTOWN, Pa. (Reuters) - The long-serving mayor of Pennsylvania’s third-most populous city, on trial on charges that he shook down vendors for campaign funds, is a dedicated public servant brought down by corrupt aides, his lawyer told a federal court on Tuesday.
But prosecutors portrayed Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who took office in 2006 and was re-elected last year while under indictment, as an ambitious manipulator who forced city vendors to pay for his plans to make a 2016 run for the U.S. Senate. He has pleaded not guilty.
“This was a created nightmare for Mayor Pawlowski,” said his attorney, Jack McMahon, looking at assistant U.S. attorneys Anthony Wzorek and Michelle Morgan in U.S. District Court in Allentown.
But Morgan countered by asking the jurors: “If the people can’t believe their leaders are doing their best for the people, what has America become?”
During the six-week trial on 54 charges, both sides made use of FBI phone taps as well as recordings made by Pawlowski aides Mike Fleck and Sam Ruchelwicz, who wore hidden microphones and cameras to record conversations for federal investigators.
In her closing arguments, Morgan displayed snippets of the transcripts that appeared to show Pawlowski and his aides demanding campaign contributions in return for city contracts or discussing their efforts to do so.
“Here’s a way for Stevens & Lee to show their love for me,” Pawlowski said in one snippet, referring to a law firm that did business with the city.
McMahon accused the government of editing the tapes, saying that many of the conversations related to legal solicitations for campaign donations without any promises of favorable treatment in return.
The defense attorney told the jury that for a campaign contribution to be considered an illegal bribe, it had to be given in return for an explicit promise of an “official act” by the politician receiving it.
“It’s not an official act to set up a meeting or host a meeting for a campaign donor,” McMahon said.
U.S. District Judge Juan Silva will charge the jury after rebuttal arguments Wednesday morning.
Reporting By Frank McGurty;Editing by Cynthia Osterman