Elected Officials Get Nabbed for ‘Pay to Play’ Schemes

“They essentially put up ‘for sale’ signs in front of their city halls to sell city work to the highest bidder.” 

On June 20, 2017, OpsLens reported on a bill proposed by the New York City Council body of 51 elected officials to expose all of the NYPD anti-terrorism playbook. With this inconceivable and absurd bill subjecting citizens and cops to enormous threats in mind, OpsLens noted that 48 Democrats make up the 51-member NY City Council. Despite their largely liberal leanings, as of July 20, 2017, they are one Democrat short. This is because Ruben Wills (D—Queens) was convicted after a 2014 indictment handed down by the NY State attorney general’s office.

In his press release, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman elucidated that Councilman Ruben Wills, who was elected to office in 2010, was found guilty of first-degree scheming to defraud, two counts of third-degree larceny, and two counts of first-degree filing of a false instrument. The NY AG’s office tabulated Wills’ theft amounted to approximately $30,000.

The finance crimes stem from Wills using campaign funds for personal gain, and applying for and receiving state-issued grant money which he funneled to a charitable organization he structured and called “NewYork4Life” (NY4Life). The state discovered that charity was fictitious yet still received funds via Wills’ authority and for which the state proved he had knowledge of said financial transactions.

With Wills’ guilty verdict read on July 20, sentencing guidelines stipulate an up to seven-year prison stint. A check of the NY City Council website now lists Wills’ political seat as “vacant.”

Speaking on the conviction, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, “Ruben Wills’ crimes were a shameful violation of the public trust. Now, after a conviction by a jury of his peers, Ruben Wills will face the consequences. Ruben Wills stole taxpayer dollars to buy fancy purses and clothes for himself and his friends. New Yorkers deserve better. Today’s conviction is another important step in our efforts to clean up New York politics and give voters the representation they deserve. I thank Comptroller DiNapoli and his staff for their continued and valuable partnership on Operation Integrity. My office will continue to hold accountable any public official who breaches the public trust and breaks the law.”

According to the NY Attorney General’s Office case affidavits, extenuating circumstances implied seed-work by Wills in his formative political career:

“The $21,000 was part of a $30,000 grant provided to NY 4 Life from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), earmarked by former State Senator Shirley Huntley while Wills was serving as Huntley’s chief of staff [emphasis added].” That relationship is very important, and seemingly where Wills spawned his eventual scheme.

“The grant stipulated that the money had to be used to conduct four public service projects. Yet witnesses at trial testified that NY 4 Life only held one event, while Wills used approximately $21,000 of the funds for personal and political expenses, including at Nordstrom and Home Depot. Wills also used a portion of the money to pay individuals who carried out campaign work for his City Council race.”

Revisiting the “seed-work” reference, while working for then-Senator Shirley Huntley, it appears Wills was either wittingly or unwittingly indoctrinated into the game of white-collar deception and sleight-of-hand maneuvering for personal gain. In 2013, Ms. Huntley fell from grace when she was also nabbed in a public office corruption indictment. Huntley was convicted and sentenced to one year and a day in jail after pleading guilty for her white collar meanderings.

It sounds like Schneiderman’s professional convictions for cleansing sullied elected public service capacities may have been overheard by US attorneys in Pennsylvania.

Allentown, PA Mayor Ed Pawlowski (D) was arrested by the FBI under the authority of the US Attorney General in Pennsylvania for an alleged “pay-to-play scheme” from which he pocketed funds from extortion/ bribery. As per the indictment affidavits, Pawlowski is charged with conspiracy to commit: mail fraud, wire fraud, honest services fraud, federal program bribery, and Travel Act bribery – 1 count; federal program: bribery/soliciting – 14 counts; federal program: bribery/offering – 1 count; mail fraud – 9 counts; wire fraud – 9 counts.

Yikes! Sounds like Pawlowski has been a busy boy, in a self-serving way, and not benefiting his constituency well. Mr. Pawlowski had at one time aspired to a Senatorial seat as well as a bid for Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial office. What could have been even more nightmarish for Pennsylvanians is now mere reminiscence, for Mr. Pawlowski’s formerly-white collar is now yellowed.

The federal government is accusing Pawlowski of doling out city enhancement orders to contractors in exchange for campaign money and fundraising help. Similar to the Hillary Clinton email scandal, the feds allege Pawlowski sniffed the brewing winds of legal trouble and thus tried to hide or destroy evidence of his malfeasance.

Like unsightly weeds popping up left and right, there is more out of the Keystone State.

Akin to Mr. Pawlowski, Reading, Pennsylvania Mayor Vaughn Spencer (D) is alleged to have offered contracts to city-work contractors and bidders in exchange for kickbacks. In a press conference recounting both Pawlowski’s and Spencer’s fall from city hall fiefdoms, acting US Attorney Louis Lappen chronicled the corruption-based plots of both elected officials:

“They essentially put up ‘for sale’ signs in front of their city halls to sell city work to the highest bidder.”

The government contends Mr. Spencer conducted his public office exactly like Pawlowski, exchanging city contracts for monetary contributions. According to a 69News report, the “former Reading City Council President’s wife, Rebecca Acosta, was also charged in the scheme.” Reaching beyond the central elected figures, it is reported that a total of eleven other city employees indicted in connection to the scheme have already entered guilty pleas.

“Those involved include various city workers in both Allentown and Reading, with crimes ranging from conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud to admitting to taking bribes,” reported WFMZ.com.

Both Pawlowski and Spencer were expected to appear in federal court on July 27, 2017.

By the way: Are you following as the Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz scandal unfolds? The one involving one of her IT staff who federal agents were after for hijacking confidential Congressional information and marketing it to bidders? The one which somehow skated too far and smacks of dirty politics? Well, that staffer, Imran Awan tried to flee overseas and was nabbed at the airport by federal agents recently. Karma is in DC, and I suspect folks with badges and handcuffs are sleuthing diligently.

In fact, it appears cousins of karma are traversing our nation and serving justice as many former elected officials are officially in custody for white-collar misdeeds. Are more to follow?

Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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