ALLENTOWN, Pa. (CN) – The corruption trial of the three-term mayor of Allentown, Pennsylvania, opened Monday with a defense attorney promising that Mayor Ed Pawlowski will take the stand to "bare his soul" and prove his innocence.
Pawlowski, who was silent as he arrived at the federal courthouse Monday alongside attorney Jack McMahon, faces 55 counts stemming from an alleged pay-to-play scheme.
Pawlowski has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors claim the Democrat, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2013, had unsatisfied ambitions to higher office and sought to illicitly build his campaign coffers to make him a viable candidate for U.S. Senate.
To do that, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek said, Pawlowski demanded those who wanted city business to make contributions to his campaign war chest.
“This is a case about bribery, about fraud and about lies,” Wzorek said.
“If you wanted a contract with the city of Allentown under Mayor Ed Pawlowski, you needed to pay,” he said.
Prosecutors said Monday they have dozens of witnesses and hours of covert recordings made by the FBI that they plan to present to the jury of seven men and five women.
They opened their case Monday by calling Allentown attorney Donald Wieand to the stand.
Wieand told the jury he'd defended the city in lawsuits filed against the police department for 25 years before the work became scarce.
He described Pawlowski as "the most aggressive fundraiser in the Lehigh Valley," and himself as a supporter of the mayor.
But Wieand said he grew uncomfortable with their relationship when Pawlowski approached him at an event and asked him for a $1,000 donation in the name of his firm, Stevens & Lee.
Wieand said he complied because if he believed if he said no, he'd stop getting legal work from the city.
“I was angry at him for putting me in that position,” Wieand said.
McMahon countered the prosecution's assertions by telling the jury his client is an ethical person who has been wrongly accused of shaking down people for campaign contributions by two former city consultants, Michael Fleck and Sam Ruchlewicz, who he said have their own legal troubles.
Fleck pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and bribery resulting from this same investigation.
“This case is real simple," McMahon said. "It’s about ... two crooks, two peas in a pod … This case is the Mike and Sam show and we’re all just watching it, sucked in like Mayor Pawlowski.”
McMahon said the mayor, while not legally required to testify, is eager to do so to proclaim his innocence. The attorney said he also intends to prove that the investigation that ensnared his client was seriously flawed.
He then went on to point out to the jury that only six out of a total 435 contracts signed by the mayor were being questioned in the trial -- and that all six came from Michael Fleck.
U.S. District Judge Juan Sanchez is president of the trial which is expected to last about six weeks.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.