Ex-controller of Allentown, Pennsylvania, pleads guilty to conspiracy

By David DeKok

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - The former controller of Allentown, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, joining a growing number of officials caught up in an alleged scheme to obtain campaign donations in exchange for city contracts.

Mary Ellen Koval, 64, a Democrat who was elected controller in 2011 and served until her resignation on Jan. 5, entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, according to federal prosecutors.

Koval confessed in court to aiding a high-ranking Allentown city official - identified as “Public Official #3” in court documents - to raise money for his political campaigns by identifying city vendors who could be pressured for donations, prosecutors said.

"Upon learning of these practices, Koval should have put a stop to them,” prosecutors said in a statement. “But Koval relied on Public Official #3 for political support, including campaign contributions and appointments.”

Koval could receive up to 20 years in prison.

"She is showing poise and dignity and wants to do the right thing by the city and the people in the city,” her lawyer, Eric Dowdle, said. “She encourages everyone else in this situation to cooperate."

Koval was the latest former official in the administration of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski to be ensnared in an FBI investigation of alleged "pay-to-play" corruption in City Hall.

Gary Strathearn, a former city finance director, pleaded guilty on Monday to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud as part of the same suspected scheme. Dale Wiles, a former assistant city solicitor, pleaded guilty in December to withholding documents from the FBI.

Pawlowski has not been named in any of the indictments. The Democrat announced plans in 2015 to challenge Republican U.S. Senator Pat Toomey but ended his campaign after the announcement of the FBI investigation.

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Peter Cooney)

SAP is the sponsor of this coverage which is independently produced by the staff of Reuters News Agency.

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