Reading City Council President Admits Taking Bribe to Repeal Ethics Law
PHILADELPHIA—Francisco Acosta, 39, of Reading, PA, pleaded guilty today to an information charging him with conspiracy to commit bribery offenses, announced United States Attorney Zane David Memeger. At the time of the offense and until this morning, Acosta was the President of Reading City Council.
Certain anti-corruption statutes were enacted in Reading, PA, to limit the influence of money on political candidates and public officials. Section 1012 of Reading’s Code of Ethics establishes limits on campaign contributions to candidates seeking public office in Reading and Section 1006(H) of the Code prohibits the awarding of “no-bid contracts” to donors who have given campaign contributions in excess of those limits. During the guilty plea hearing, Acosta admitted the following:
In the spring of 2015, Acosta conspired with a person identified as “Public Official #1” to repeal these restrictions before the May 19, 2015 primary election through a bribery scheme, in violation of federal criminal law. Public Official #1 was a Reading public official who had the power to sign into law ordinances that had been passed by City Council. Public Official #1 was also a candidate in the Democratic Party’s primary election, scheduled for May 19, 2015. Public Official #1 decided to offer Acosta an $1,800 “loan” to the campaign committee of Acosta’s ally ( “Public Official #2”), which would be “forgiven” upon Acosta successfully orchestrating a repeal of Sections 1012 and 1006(H). Acosta accepted the payment on April 10, 2015 and then, three days later, introduced legislation to eliminate certain restrictions in the Code of Ethics in accordance with Public Official #1’s wishes (“the repeal bill”). As agreed to by Public Official #1 and Acosta, the repeal bill would have repealed Section 1012 in its entirety, thereby eliminating the restrictions on campaign contributions and nullifying Section 1006(H)’s prohibition on awarding “no-bid contracts” to certain donors.
To conceal his participation in the scheme, Public Official #1 sought to finance any campaign contributions to Public Official #2 with funding from third parties. Public Official #1 also sought to offer Acosta additional funding for the campaign committee of Public Official #2 as a reward for Acosta successfully orchestrating the passage of the repeal bill, although only a single payment—an $1,800 check payable to the campaign of Public Official #2 (“the bribe check”)—was ever provided to Acosta. When Acosta took possession of the bribe check, he agreed that, in order to avoid scrutiny of his agreement with Public Official #1, neither Acosta nor Public Official #2 would deposit the bribe check until a later date.
Acosta attempted to persuade other members of City Council to pass the repeal bill before the primary election by falsely asserting that he was motivated solely by the best financial interests of Reading and by concealing that he had received the bribe check. Then, on April 21, 2015, Acosta made materially false statements to FBI agents who were investigating the bribery scheme. Acosta falsely denied that he had accepted a bribery offer from Public Official #1 and that he had ever possessed or received the bribe check. In fact, as Acosta well knew, he had previously agreed to Public Official #1’s bribery offer and still had possession of the bribe check at the time of his false statements to the agents.
Within 24 hours of his interview with FBI agents on April 21, 2015, Acosta took affirmative steps to withdraw from the conspiracy, all without alerting other members of the conspiracy of the FBI’s inquiry into this matter. Acosta then met with the government at his earliest opportunity in order to accept responsibility for his wrongdoing. Acosta subsequently absented himself from the vote on the repeal bill, which was defeated unanimously by the remaining members of Reading City Council.
“Elected officials have an obligation to provide their constituents with honest services,” said Memeger. “When officials sell their services, particularly to repeal anti-corruption legislation, as Acosta admitted here, they do tremendous damage to the integrity of our governmental system. This office remains committed to investigating and prosecuting public corruption at all levels of government.”
“When government officials agree to sell their services, they betray their constituents who rightfully expect high ethical standards,” said FBI Special Agent-in-Charge William F. Sweeney. “The FBI will continue to aggressively investigate allegations of public corruption, and work with our partners to ensure that those who violate their obligation to the public are held accountable.”
After accepting Acosta’s guilty plea, U.S. District Court Judge Juan R. Sanchez scheduled a sentencing hearing for November 18, 2015. Acosta faces a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, three years of supervised release, and a $100 special assessment.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Joe Khan and Nancy Beam Winter.
An Indictment is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.