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December 21, 2015

Feds charge former Allentown finance director with conspiracy to commit wire fraud

Garret Strathearn allegedly rigged city contract

Crime Fraud
Garret_Strathearn Photo Courtesy/

Former Allentown Finance Director Garret Strathearn was charged Monday with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

A former Allentown finance director was charged Monday by federal officials in an FBI investigation believed to involve Mayor Ed Pawlowski.

Garret Strathearn, 68, of Sea Girt, New Jersey, was charged by information with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud as part of an alleged scheme to rig the award of a city contract.

Strathearn allegedly helped manipulate the awarding of the city's 2014 revenue collection contract to a partnership likely to provide an unnamed public official with the most promising source of campaign contributions.

The official, identified only as "Public Official No. 3," is described as aspiring to win a statewide, elected office and having authority over both Strathearn and Assistant City Solicitor Dale Wiles. That description only fits Pawlowksi, according to the Allentown Morning Call. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Strathearn resigned in May and was replaced by Brent A. Hartzell, Detroit's former budget director. Wiles pleaded guilty last month to his role in the conspiracy. He will be sentenced March 2.

RELATED ARTICLE: Former Allentown Asst. City Solicitor to plead guilty to fraud charges

Public Official No. 3 allegedly sought to raise campaign contributions from parties who had profited from their dealings with the city and others who sought favorable treatment. The official allegedly directed municipal employees, including Strathearn and Wiles, to give preferential treatment to past and potential campaign donors.

Allentown's revenue collection contract, which includes collection of delinquent real estate taxes and municipal claims, had been held for several years by a law firm and renewed annually without the city publishing request for proposals (RFP) inviting other companies to bid on the contract.

But the city published an RFP on Nov. 11, 2013. Two law firms, including the one holding the contract, submitted bids. So did a partnership between a third law firm and a collection agency.

A revenue committee was responsible for evaluating the proposals and recommending the one that would be most advantageous to the city. The committee recommended the law firm that did not currently hold the contract.

Public Official No. 3 allegedly instructed subordinates to award the contract to the partnership, but the official did not want to be perceived as having influenced the process. The official also requested the partnership be informed that future renewals would be based on the official's campaign receiving sufficient contributions.

Strathearn allegedly agreed to intervene and, along with Wiles, falsified paperwork to create the impression that the partnership had won the contract on its own merits. Strathearn also allegedly removed a committee member who scored the partnership's bid the lowest, replacing the woman with himself.

Strathearn, Wiles and Public Official No. 3 also allegedly made false statements to FBI agents in 2015.