Ex-mayor gets 8 years in prison for corruption scheme

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A former Pennsylvania mayor was sentenced Wednesday to eight years in prison for trading city contracts for campaign contributions in a pay-to-play investigation that’s resulted in the convictions of more than a dozen people, including another mayor.

“I let ambition take over, and I’m truly sorry,” a tearful Vaughn Spencer told a federal judge in Philadelphia. “I lost my compass and for that, I have to pay the price.”

Spencer, the Democratic mayor of Reading from 2012 until his failed reelection bid in 2015, was also ordered to pay a $35,000 fine and to serve three years on supervised release after serving his sentence.

He must report to prison June 13.

Spencer, 71, was the first black council president and mayor of Reading. He worked as a teacher for 37 years in the Reading School District. Chief U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez said he took into account Spencer’s work with students and athletes as a coach and mentor when issuing his sentence.

“I failed to be the inspiration I set about to be and I’m truly sorry,” Spencer said in court.

His attorney, Geoffrey Johnson, said outside the courtroom he was disappointed in the sentence. He said they are assessing their options to appeal.

Spencer was convicted of bribery and conspiracy charges as part of a federal investigation that led to raids of two city halls a week apart. Prosecutors said Spencer promised engineering contracts to companies that agreed to provide campaign contributions and directed contracts to past donors to ensure they kept supporting his reelection efforts.

Federal prosecutors had sought a sentence of 10 to 12 years in prison. Johnson asked for leniency Wednesday, saying Spencer’s role was “misstated” and it was the advisers who led the scheme.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Morgan said Spencer had “all that potential to do good, and he squandered it in the most egregious matter.”

Spencer was also convicted of attempting to bribe former City Council President Francisco Acosta in order to try to get an anti-pay-to-play ordinance repealed in Reading, the fifth largest city in Pennsylvania. He agreed to give Acosta’s wife a contribution for her campaign in a judge’s race if the ordinance were abolished. The ex-council president was previously sentenced to two years in prison for taking the bribe.

Federal investigators raided city halls in Reading and Allentown in 2015 in an investigation of pay-to-play schemes that also ensnared then-Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski. Pawlowski was sentenced in October to 15 years in prison for rigging municipal contracts in order to raise money for his political campaigns for higher office.