PHILADELPHIA (CN) — Sam Ruchlewicz had just gotten engaged the night before the FBI showed up.
He was in his hotel room in San Francisco, plugging a thumb drive into his computer, and then there was a knock at his door.
“Agent Curtis gave me a very simple choice,” Ruchlewicz, 29, testified Thursday of that June 2014 visitor. “To be part of the problem or the solution.”
The FBI wanted Ruchlewicz to help them with an investigation of Michael Fleck, who at the time was managing the re-election campaign of Vaughn Spencer, the mayor of Reading, Pennsylvania.
Applying some pressure, the FBI told Ruchlewicz they knew about the $2,000 he had taken from a political action committee.
Ruchlewicz said he put the money back immediately. From then he on went about his work normally, as the FBI monitored his outgoing calls.
In the mornings before work, Ruchlewicz would meet Agent Curtis, who’d give him a suit jacket, a phone or an iPad case with recording devices in them. In the afternoons, Ruchlewicz gave these devices back.
Today Fleck stands convicted of conspiracy charges, and Spencer is charged with running a pay-to-play scheme — awarding lucrative city contracts to those who supported his campaign.
Ruchlewicz took the stand Thursday for Day 4 of Spencer’s trial, giving context to a number of recordings played for the jury by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek.
In each call, Ruchlewicz and Spencer appear to go over the same few things: who gave how much money, how much money they had, and who had applied for contracts.
Ruchlewicz testified that the campaign used the money to pay for things like canvassing, mailers, and television and radio advertising. When Spencer lost the Democratic primary in 2015, though, the focus changed to reducing the mayor’s personal debt. Spencer had loaned his campaign $30,000 to 40,000 out of his personal accounts, Ruchlewicz said.
In April 2014, before the FBI approached Ruchlewicz, the FBI recorded Spencer telling Ruchlewicz about a project he had given to an engineering firm. Spencer wanted to know if he had received a campaign contribution.
“Everyone else wanted to give it to RK&K and instead T&M’s gonna get it,” Spencer said on the recording. In response, Ruchlewicz said he’d call T&M Engineering to check up on why T&M hadn’t made a campaign contribution.
In another recorded conversation, this one from after Ruchlewicz was cooperating with the FBI, Ruchlewicz told the mayor that T&M had still not given him a check.
“I went out of my way for those guys,” Spencer responded on the tape. “Remember that project, they were already ruled out. I got ’em back in there and got ’em approved.”
Spencer spoke about T&M in another conversation with Ruchlewicz: “They need to understand that if they’re not going to be more supportive then I can’t help them, you know what I mean?”
Ruchlewicz also testified that he and the mayor had strategized to bribe the president of the city council to abolish Reading’s limited political candidate contributions, set in place to prohibit pay-to-play, because the cap posed a problem for Spencer.
“Mayor Spencer’s campaign was funded by a handful of people, all of them were writing very large checks in violation of the law,” Ruchlewicz testified. “I remember one check was $40,000.”
Ruchlewicz said he had talked with Spencer and the president of Reading’s city council, who asked them to contribute to his wife’s political campaign. Ruchlewicz said Spencer decided to “loan” the $1,800 to his wife’s campaign, so that when the ordinance was repealed the loan would be forgiven.
The repeal never happened, however, and Ruchlewicz said he later found out that this was because the FBI had approached the city council president and told him not to pass this ordinance.
Ruchlewicz has not been charged with any crimes regarding his involvement in Spencer’s campaign. Fleck, the campaign manager, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bribery offenses in 2016.