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U.S. Attorney: Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski should resign

Acting U.S. Attorney Louis Lappen on Friday, March 2, 2018, talks about the guilty verdict in the pay-to-play trial of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski.

The head of the U.S. attorney's office in Philadelphia that prosecuted Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski said Friday the mayor's conviction on corruption charges shows he is unfit for office and should resign.

Whether Pawlowski could go to jail before his sentencing on corruption charges is still an open question, a spokeswoman for the office said Friday.

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Prosecutors and Pawlowski's attorney are scheduled for a conference March 9 with U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez, where they will discuss the terms of the mayor's release. He was allowed to go free on bond, as he has since his indictment in July, after a federal jury in Allentown delivered a 47-count guilty verdict Thursday evening.

Asked in a news conference Friday whether Pawlowski should resign his office, "My understanding is that the court is going to be addressing this later with the mayor," U.S. Attorney Louis D. Lappen said.

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Lappen called for Pawlowski to give up his post after his convictions for conspiracy, bribery, attempted extortion, fraud and making false statements to the FBI.

"What we learned from the jury's verdict in this case is that this mayor was unfit to serve as mayor before he was convicted and he's certainly unfit to serve as mayor now," Lappen said.

"He should resign," he said. "It would be the smart thing for him to do."

Pawlowski's attorney, Jack McMahon, reached by phone Friday, reiterated remarks he made immediately after the verdict, saying it is premature for Pawlowski to make such a decision.

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"Last night was a complete shock and surprise to the mayor," McMahon said. "Decisions will be made and give him some time to make the right decision for himself, for his family and for the city."

Lappen made the remarks in a news conference with prosecutors Anthony Wzorek and Michelle Morgan and the head of the office's anti-corruption division, Rich Barrett. Also present were several FBI investigators, including Special Agent Scott Curtis, who led the investigation of a pay-to-play scheme directed by Pawlowski and his campaign operatives.

Lappen said he hopes the conviction brings a dose of reality to elected officials who would abuse their offices and noted that Pawlowski, his co-defendant and the 10 others who have admitted guilt in the Allentown case join a regional pantheon of those convicted of public corruption, including former Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah and former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.

"The public officials who commit these crimes do so with an incredible sense of arrogance," Lappen said. "They think that their position entitles them to pilfer whatever they can from the system for their own benefit."

The special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia field office, Mike Harpster, said Pawlowski's arrogance was evident in a recording of him speaking to campaign manager Mike Fleck, in which he said, "You can only get indicted for the s--- you say out loud, so don't say s--- out loud."

"Fortunately, all the while, us and our partners were listening," Harpster said, referring to the wire taps and body wires Fleck and his employee, Sam Ruchlewicz, wore after the FBI confronted them with evidence of their crimes.

Harpster said stopping public corruption is the FBI's No. 1 priority and each case the agency investigates and takes to prosecutors is a "little nick in that Liberty Bell we call democracy."

"Local democracy failure leads to state failure, which leads to national failures," he said.

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After the news conference, Lappen said that while Pawlowski's conviction is significant for Allentown and can be seen as a deterrent to public officials across the nation, it doesn't have a significant effect on the state of anti-bribery law, which has been in flux since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the bribery convictions of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife in 2016. The court narrowed the definition of what is an official action taken in exchange for a bribe.

Following the decision, several bribery convictions were overturned, and the prosecution of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., ended with a hung jury. Federal prosecutors opted to dismiss the case after several of the charges were dismissed in a decision that cited the McDonnell case.

Pawlowski's crimes — rigging contracts, soliciting bidders for money and pressuring city officials to favor donors — were unquestionably official actions, the prosecutor said.

"I don't think this is a case that was on the borderline of what are official acts," Lappen said.

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