As Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer sits facing imminent arrest for public corruption I hope he enjoys his current vacation. It is obviously the precursor for one he’ll be having quite soon: a lengthy stay in a federal prison. Alright, so that won’t feel like a vacation. He is the obvious person identified in Department of Justice documents as “elected official #1 in yesterday’s conviction of City Council President Francis Acosta. Elected official #2 is reportedly Acosta’s wife Rebecca President of the Reading School Board. Who else would he funnel bribe money through? The charge yesterday was that Spencer gave Mrs. Acosta’s campaign $1,800 in exchange for Mr. Acosta getting a city ethics law repealed preventing the Mayor from collecting illegal campaign contributions for his failed re-election campaign.
I examined the campaign finance reports for April, the period covered by the payment according tot he FBI document, and neither candidate reported the exchange of money. No disbursement of $1,800 to any elected public official exists in Spencer’s report and no expenditure to Mrs. Acosta is reported. Her report doesn’t disclose any such contribution for that period. These omissions would be a violation of Pennsylvania election law though that’s the least of their worries at this time.
Did both campaigns consciously omit the transaction? Spencer’s campaign treasurer is/was his chief aid Eron Lloyd. Interestingly his reports also had a glaring deficiency. His ending cash balance of $23,343.39 mysteriously became a cash forward balance of just $12,665.54 in his next report. This was corrected in an amended report dated June 19th but I can’t imagine how the error occurred. Spencer’s campaign was using NGP Van software. I’ve used NGP software before and all you do is continuously input your contributions and expenditures and it spits out your report when it’s due. If you submitted a report with this error in it, even if it’s off by a few cents, the software will alert you that two figures are not compatible.
If you end one reporting period with $23,343 cash on hand you have to begin the next one with same amount. Their report reduced it to $12,665. For the software to allow that expenditures of about $10,678 happened somewhere. Maybe $1,800 of it went to Rebecca Acosta?
I’ve known Mayor Spencer for quite a while. While I like him personally I never liked him as a public official. As City Council President prior to being elected Mayor he was a crony of State Representative Tom Caltagirone with whom I’ve had disagreements. When Spencer was attempting to ram through the sale of Antietam Lake and the surrounding land to MB Investments it was obvious he’d been bought off somehow. Another City Council ally of the sale mysteriously wound up with a nice new house. No one could ever prove the corruption but we all smelled it.
City Council members Donna Reed, Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz and Jeff Waltman united to block that deal. The land was finally sold to Berks County and developed into a park. At one fateful meeting at the Berks County Services Center I recall Spencer referring to John Fox, the Mascaro lawyer, as “our attorney.” Following the faux pas he quickly left the Commissioners Chambers in embarrassment. It was further evidence he was in their pay.
It’s funny how chickens sometimes come home to roost. After becoming Mayor Spencer attempted to get around the City Charter and other rules. Honest City Council members called him on his illegal shenanigans and it all resulted in prolonged legal battles. For a city unable to provide basic services and in Act 47 the expenditure of a million dollars in legal fees was inexcusable.
I’m also intrigued by Spencer’s relationship with retailer Albert Boscov. Boscov is also a major developer in Reading and recently was awarded a contract to renovate four city owned properties along Penn Street. Developer Alan Shuman, someone with far more experience developing properties, was denied the work. Boscov is finishing construction of his new Doubletree Hotel in downtown Reading, something for which he obtained tax abatements for. He gave a $70,000 loan to Spencer’s re-election campaign. Is this pay to play? I suppose we’ll find out all the answers once the indictments are handed down.