Light sen­tences for Pawlowski cronies ridicu­lous

The Morning Call (Sunday) - - TOWN SQUARE -

Just about a month ago, a fed­eral judge stunned a lot of peo­ple when he sen­tenced for­mer Al­len­town Mayor Ed Pawlowski to 15 years be­hind bars for po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion. Equally stun­ning were the light sen­tences given last week to other city of­fi­cials who par­tic­i­pated in Pawlowski’s schemes.

When ban­ish­ing

Pawlowski to prison, Chief

U.S. District Judge Juan R.

Sanchez no doubt was send­ing a mes­sage that abus­ing the trust of tax­pay­ers and gam­ing the sys­tem will not be tol­er­ated. Well done.

Then the judge went easy on for­mer as­sis­tant solic­i­tor Dale Wiles and for­mer fi­nance di­rec­tor

Gar­ret Strat­hearn.

Wiles and Strat­hearn were not mas­ter­minds of schemes to trade city busi­ness for cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions for the mayor. But they vi­o­lated the pub­lic’s trust by rig­ging the bid­ding process for city tax col­lec­tor to fa­vor a com­pany backed by Pawlowski’s po­lit­i­cal sup­port­ers.

Wiles also was ac­cused of ly­ing to FBI agents and of not pro­vid­ing city records that had been sub­poe­naed. Strat­hearn was ac­cused of ly­ing to the FBI and per­jur­ing him­self while tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore a grand jury in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case.

Both men should have spent some time in jail af­ter plead­ing guilty to wire and mail fraud con­spir­acy.

In­stead, Wiles was sen­tenced to serve a whole eight hours in the cus­tody of U.S. mar­shals, fol­lowed by three months of house ar­rest. Strat­hearn gets to serve all of his penalty com­fort­ably at home on house ar­rest for six months. Both men also were fined and put on pro­ba­tion.

There’s no point in an eight-hour sen­tence. It’s not like Wiles will ex­pe­ri­ence what life truly is like be­hind bars. He’ll prob­a­bly eat a few meals, fill out some pa­per­work, take a nap and be home be­fore most of us get out of work that day. He surely won’t be scarred by his stint in cus­tody.

But they vi­o­lated the pub­lic’s trust by rig­ging the bid­ding process for city tax col­lec­tor to fa­vor a com­pany backed by Pawlowski’s po­lit­i­cal sup­port­ers.

It’s hard to rec­on­cile those light sen­tences with what Pawlowski got in Oc­to­ber. Fif­teen years is a long time. I’m not con­don­ing what Pawlowski did and be­lieve he should have been locked up for quite some time. But he’ll be put away far longer than some other cor­rupt politi­cians, while his cronies are out and about.

There are dif­fer­ences. Pawlowski never apol­o­gized, while Wiles and Strat­hearn showed re­morse and ad­mit­ted guilt. Yet both men still com­mit­ted what should be con­sid­ered mor­tal sins for any gov­ern­ment em­ployee.

Wiles and Strat­hearn had a duty to act in tax­pay­ers’ best in­ter­ests when award­ing city con­tracts. In­stead, they took ad­van­tage of a sys­tem that they knew op­er­ates in se­cret. Then they ma­nip­u­lated that sys­tem, know­ing it would be dif­fi­cult to get caught.

The process of award­ing gov­ern­ment con­tracts in Pennsylvania oc­curs largely be­hind closed doors. Notes and records of gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees who eval­u­ate bids and pro­pos­als are ex­empt from pub­lic re­lease un­der the state’s Right-toKnow Law.

Gov­ern­ment agen­cies don’t even have to dis­close who sits on com­mit­tees that re­view bids and pro­pos­als. So there was no way for any­one out­side of Al­len­town City Hall to look at how the tax col­lec­tor pro­pos­als were weighed.

Dur­ing Pawlowski’s trial, I wrote that the Right-to-Know Law should be changed to al­low the pub­lic to re­view those doc­u­ments to make sure con­tracts were awarded fairly. The doc­u­ments are among the most im­por­tant that gov­ern­ments have, as they are the ba­sis for how a sig­nif­i­cant amount of tax­payer money is spent. And los­ing bid­ders surely would be in­ter­ested in know­ing how to im­prove their chances the next time.

Un­der fed­eral sen­tenc­ing guide­lines, Strat­hearn and Wiles each could have re­ceived a 12-to-18-month prison sen­tence. Last week, pros­e­cu­tors asked the judge to lock Wiles up for three months; they cited his even­tual co­op­er­a­tion. Pros­e­cu­tors did not seek any jail time for Strat­hearn, cit­ing his co­op­er­a­tion.

Sev­eral other for­mer city of­fi­cials await sen­tenc­ing.

Oth­ers who pleaded guilty to or been con­victed of par­tic­i­pat­ing in Pawlowski’s schemes have been sen­tenced to prison.

Jim Hickey is a lob­by­ist who pleaded guilty last De­cem­ber to hon­est ser­vices fraud in the Pawlowski case and in a par­al­lel cor­rup­tion case in Read­ing. He was sen­tenced to 18 months in prison.

At­tor­ney Scott Allinson was con­victed in March of con­spir­acy and bribery for so­lic­it­ing con­tri­bu­tions to Pawlowski’s U.S. Se­nate cam­paign in ex­change for prom­ises of le­gal work for his law firm at the time, Norris McLaugh­lin & Mar­cus. He was sen­tenced to 27 months in prison. Like Pawlowski, he is ap­peal­ing.

Dur­ing Allinson’s sen­tenc­ing hear­ing, Sanchez re­jected Allinson’s re­quest for home con­fine­ment, say­ing it was in­ap­pro­pri­ate and would min­i­mize the se­ri­ous­ness of his crimes.

The light sen­tences given to Wiles and Strat­hearn did just that.

[email protected] 610-820-6582 Paul Muschick’s col­umns are pub­lished Mon­day through Fri­day at the­morn­ing­call.com and Sun­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day in The Morn­ing Call. Fol­low me on Face­book at PaulMuschick­Columns, Twit­ter @mcwatch­dog and the­morn­ing­call.com/muschick.

MORN­ING CALL FILE PHO­TOS

For­mer Al­len­town as­sis­tant solic­i­tor Dale Wiles (left) and for­mer Fi­nance Di­rec­tor Gar­ret Strat­hearn were sen­tenced for their roles in the Al­len­town City Hall cor­rup­tion scan­dal.

Paul Muschick

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