- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A former northeast Pennsylvania campaign manager surfaced in federal court Thursday, a year after he abruptly shuttered his firm and left home, to plead guilty in an ongoing FBI corruption probe of Reading and Allentown.

Michael Fleck pleaded guilty Thursday in a pay-to-play case that involves city officials allegedly demanding campaign donors in exchange for city business. The case became public last summer when FBI agents raided city halls in both municipalities as well as the homes of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and then-Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer. At least four people have since pleaded guilty, including Allentown’s elected controller.

Fleck had served as the campaign manager for Spencer and for Pawlowski’s brief U.S. Senate campaign. Pawlowski and Spencer haven’t been charged and both have denied wrongdoing.

Fleck, 40, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and bribery and one tax evasion count. He assured a federal judge in Philadelphia that he knew his plea could bring up to 10 years in prison. He entered his plea the same day federal prosecutors announced the charges against him.

Fleck had shut down H Street Strategies last summer and moved out of his Allentown home days before the FBI sought documents related to him at Reading City Hall. He told the judge he has since worked in automotive sales.

“He’s made some personal and family decisions that he thought he had to make,” defense lawyer Philip Lauer said, according to the Morning Call of Allentown.

The other Allentown officials who have pleaded guilty in the probe include controller Mary Ellen Koval, former finance director Gary Strathearn and assistant city solicitor Dale Wiles.

Allentown is Pennsylvania’s third-largest city with about 120,000 residents. Reading is the state’s fifth-largest city with about 90,000 residents.

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