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February 02, 2016

Former Reading politician gets two years for taking bribe to repeal ethics law

Francisco Acosta is first public official to be sentenced as part of investigations into corruption in Allentown and Reading

Francisco Acosta has achieved an unenviable distinction: He's the first public official to be sentenced as part of the FBI's ongoing investigations into corruption in Reading and Allentown.

Acosta, the former City Council president of Reading, has been sentenced to two years in prison for bribery, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced on Monday. Appropriately, the U.S. Attorney's Office charged that he accepted an $1,800 bribe in exchange for trying to pass legislation that would repeal sections of the city's Code of Ethics.

The bribe allegedly came from former Mayor Vaughn Spencer, reported the Reading Eagle, although the U.S. Attorney's Office referred to the person only as "Public Official #1." "Public Official #1" wanted the laws changed before the Democratic mayoral primary in May 2015, which Spencer lost. Spencer has not been charged.

Acosta introduced a bill in April that would have eliminated restrictions on campaign contributions and allowed officials to grant no-bid contracts to donors. He tried to argue that the bill was in the best financial interests of the city, but City Council unanimously voted it down.

He planned to use the bribe money for his wife's campaign for district judge, according to the Eagle. Rebecca Acosta has not been charged, and she is now president of the Reading School Board.

"What I did was wrong, despicable and a dishonor for the people who elected me," Acosta said at his sentencing.

The case bears similarities to the pay-to-play scandal in Allentown, where city vendors were reportedly pressured into donating to Mayor Ed Pawlowski's Senate campaign. Several public officials have pleaded guilty, but Pawlowski has not been charged. As reported, a political consultant named Michael Fleck worked for both Pawlowski and Spencer.