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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Pennsylvania

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Former Reading, PA Mayor Charged with Violations of Federal Public Corruption Laws

PHILADELPHIA – A federal indictment1 was unsealed today charging former Mayor Vaughn Spencer, 70, of Reading, for alleged violations of federal public corruption laws, announced Acting United States Attorney Louis D. Lappen. The indictment charges Spencer with 9 counts of bribery, 1 count of honest services wire fraud and conspiracy. Rebecca Acosta, 40, of Reading, and James Hickey, 54, of Allentown, were also included on the indictment. Acosta was charged with 2 counts of bribery, 1 count of mail fraud, 1 count of wire fraud, and conspiracy. Hickey was charged with 1 count of bribery, 1 count of mail fraud, 1 count of wire fraud and conspiracy.

According to allegations contained in the indictment, Spencer was involved in illegal activities associated with his position as an elected official: today’s announcement is the culmination of a several year investigation involving the pleas of 5 other individuals. Former Reading City officials and businesspersons pursuing contracts with the city of Reading are among those who have already plead guilty. The indictment sets forth numerous overt acts committed by Vaughn Spencer in the course of the conspiracy in which his objective was to maximize his campaign contributions through unlawful means.

In one egregious example, Mayor Spencer offered a bribe through City Council President Francisco Acosta to Francisco Acosta’s wife, School Board President Rebecca Acosta, who was running for district justice. Mayor Spencer gave the bribe in order to persuade Francisco Acosta to seek repeal of a city Code of Ethics ordinance that capped at $2,600 individual campaign contributions to persons running for city office, like Spencer, who was running as an incumbent in the democratic primary.

“The mayor of Allentown and the former mayor of Reading charged in the two indictments unsealed today sold their offices to the highest bidder -- violating the trust and confidence of the citizens of their cities,” said Acting United States Attorney Louis Lappen. “Both mayors, working with other corrupt officials and businesspeople, directed lucrative contracts to companies who agreed to provide campaign contributions in exchange for work. In an astounding act of irony, former Mayor Spencer bribed the President of City Council to introduce legislation repealing a Reading anti-corruption statute. The United States Attorney’s Office will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute public officials who operate these “pay to play” schemes.

"As alleged in these indictments, 'pay to play' was the order of the day in Allentown, and in Reading," said Michael Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division, "with those cities' mayors manipulating the levers of power for their own ways and means. As charged, Edwin Pawlowski and Vaughn Spencer brazenly and repeatedly sold off city contracts to bankroll their political futures. This years-long investigation illuminated troubling conduct for which all of those indicted must now answer. The FBI is committed to fighting public corruption, which erodes the trust of 'we the people' and cheapens our cherished democracy."

“Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) is diligent in unraveling the fraudulent actions of those, such as Edwin Pawlowski and Vaughn Spencer, who scheme to defraud citizens of Allentown and Reading who placed their trust in him,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Gregory Floyd of IRS-CI’s Philadelphia Field Office. IRS-Criminal Investigation is proud to be a member of the formidable team that is rooting out public corruption. “Today’s indictment is a reminder that there are detrimental consequences for this type of criminal behavior.”

The charge of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; the charge of honest services wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; and the charge of conspiracy carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Michelle Morgan and Anthony Wzorek of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation and Pennsylvania State Police.

1An Indictment, Information or Criminal Complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Topic(s): 
Public Corruption
Updated July 26, 2017