Aide to Indicted Mayor Heaps Blame on Campaign Staffers

PHILADELPHIA (CN) — When the mayor of Reading, Pennsylvania, named him as special assistant in October 2014, Eron Lloyd thought controlling a rogue campaign consultant couldn’t be that hard. Lloyd soon found out that wasn’t the case.

“I wasn’t happy with anything,” Lloyd testified about the people in the orbit of Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer.

Having already pleaded guilty in 2015 to one count of conspiracy, Lloyd took the stand  in Philadelphia Monday for the sixth day of Spencer’s federal bribery trial.

Accused of trading city contracts for campaign donations as part of a pay-to-play scheme, the 71-year-old Spencer faces 11 counts of criminal corruption.

Lloyd described the mayor’s campaign staffers, Sam Ruchlewicz and Michael Fleck of Fleck Consulting, as perpetually trying to impose their agendas on the mayor.

Ruchlewicz in particular, he said, was always trying to insert both financial and contractual details in conversations.

“It was in the mayor’s interested to listen to me to fire them,” Lloyd said. “He was the only one who could make that decision to break that relationship.”

Lloyd said that in 2014 he put out a memo instructing Ruchlewicz not to contact department heads within the city and department heads not to contact Ruchlewicz. But, he testified, Spencer did not enforce this memo, so the city’s contact with Ruchlewicz continued.

Lloyd also said that he told Ruchlewicz to stop calling him about vendor contracts. In response, Fleck split his company Fleck Consulting — which provided both connections for businesses to city officials and financial fundraising advice for city officials — into two entities: H Street Strategies, for financial campaigns, and Hamilton Development, for businesses.

“I didn’t understand how that line would change anything,” Lloyd testified, saying that Ruchlewicz continued to work for both entities. “That’s what was presented and the mayor re-engaged [with Fleck] under this new structure.”

With Lloyd’s testimony, defense attorney Geoffrey Johnson tried to unravel the description of Spencer that Ruchlewicz offered on the stand last week.

Whereas Ruchlewicz said the mayor had been “aloof,” “unorganized” and “clueless,” Lloyd testified on cross-examination that the mayor would not “disappear for days at a time” or “have piles of papers on his desk” waiting to be signed.

Lloyd said that the mayor worked hard for the city. That he dealt with the people of Reading’s requests and complaints, managed all the city’s departments, and attended meetings all day with officials.

He might miss meetings that were set up by Ruchlewicz, Lloyd said, but that was because Ruchlewicz wasn’t allowed to access the mayor’s calendar. Sometimes Ruchlewicz’s meetings conflicted with other events for which Spencer had been scheduled. When this was the case, Lloyd testified, Spencer gave priority to meetings with the city.

Johnson also worked to show that that City Council President Francis Acosta had his own reasons for repealing an ordinance that limited the amount of financial contributions candidates could receive from both businesses and individuals. He argued that in an April 2015 recording, Acosta told Ruchlewicz he would repeal the campaign-finance ordinance without asking for money. After he committed to repealing the ordinance, Ruchlewicz offered an $1,800 check towards billboards for Acosta’s wife’s campaign for school board.

Later, in a meeting with Spencer and Lloyd, Ruchlewicz said Acosta had asked for this $1,800 in exchange for repealing the ordinance. Neither party was told that Ruchlewicz himself introduced the idea of helping Acosta’s wife, Lloyd testified.

Johnson played a recording for the jury in which Ruchlewicz asked several times if he could cut a check for these billboards. Lloyd testified that, until this Ruchlewicz entered the conversation, there was no discussion about anything but putting an alternate ordinance in front of city council that could be passed.

“His wife tends to respond well when there’s incentive in front of her,” Ruchlewicz said on the tape, as the group discussed cutting a check out of their political action committee and making it a forgivable loan.

“Mayor, are you good with that plan?” Ruchlewicz asked.

“I don’t know,” Spencer replied in the recording, telling Ruchlewicz to talk to Lloyd about it.

The witness testified that afterward, he told the mayor to call Johnson, his attorney, to talk over this plan, which Spencer neglected to do.

Concluding redirect of Lloyd, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Morgan asked if Spencer listened to him when he said Fleck’s consulting firm was bad news.

“No,” Lloyd said.

“No additional questions,” Morgan responded.

The prosecution called to the stand FBI Special Agent Carmen Dimario as their next witness. Dimario opened with testimony about the FBI’s investigation process, which will continue into Tuesday.

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