Former Reading mayor pleads not guilty to corruption

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A former Pennsylvania mayor who prosecutors say sold off the powers of his office to the highest bidder in pay-to-play schemes pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges Tuesday.

Former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer declined to comment on accusations that he steered lucrative city contracts toward campaign donors who showered him with cash and gifts as exited the Philadelphia courtroom with the help of walker.

But his lawyer said they are ready to fight the fraud and bribery charges.

"We won't back down," defense attorney Geoffrey Johnson said.

Spencer, a Democrat who took office in 2012, will remain free until his trial.

The former mayor sought to keep large sums of cash flowing to his 2015 re-election effort and made it clear to donors he would withhold official action from individuals and businesses that didn't provide satisfactory campaign contributions, prosecutors said.

Those willing to pay, authorities said, were rewarded with city contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In one instance, Spencer agreed to hand over a contract worth $227,000 to an engineering firm after a representative for the company told him he would receive a $1,500 contribution and four tickets to a Philadelphia Phillies game. He previously told a campaign operative he cleared a contract for the firm "so we need to get something from them," according to the indictment.

Spencer also is accused of bribing the city council president to repeal an anti-corruption law that capped the limit on campaign contributions. The council president was previously sentenced to two years in federal prison for taking the bribe.

The mayor of Allentown also pleaded not guilty to similar charges last week. Mayor Ed Pawlowski has said he's done nothing wrong.

The federal investigation of the two city governments began in 2013 and led to charges against a slew of lower-ranking city officials and contractors. It became public in 2015 when FBI agents raided both city halls as well as the homes of Pawlowski and Spencer.