April 26th Ups & Downs
The former Mayor of Reading is sentenced for 8 years in federal prison, a number of Pennsylvania Democrats line up behind a Presidential candidate, and a tax on internet sales is exceeding initial expectations. All of that and more are in this week’s Ups and Downs.
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Vaughn Spencer. The former Reading Mayor was sentenced up to 8 years in federal prison for trading city contracts for campaign contributions earlier this week. The Democratic mayor who served from 2012 to 2016 was convicted of bribery and conspiracy charges in part of a “pay-to-play investigation” according to the AP. Prosecutors say Spencer promised engineering contracts to companies that agreed to deliver campaign contributions, while directing contracts to past donors to ensure they kept supporting his reelection efforts, according to the AP. His reelection bid in 2015 was unsuccessful. Spencer was also convicted for attempting to bribe former Reading City Council President Francisco Acosta to get an anti-pay-to-play law repealed. He agreed to give Acosta’s wife a campaign contribution for her bid for judge if the anti-pay-to-play ordinance was removed. Acosta, the former council president, was sentenced to two years in prison for taking the bribe, the AP reports. Following Spencer’s eight year prison sentence, he has three years of supervised release. He’s also ordered to pay a fine of $35,000, with $10,000 due immediately, according to WFMZ. He must report to prison June 13.
Joe Biden. The Scranton native launched his presidential bid this week and earned the endorsement of multiple elected officials right out of the gate. Sen. Bob Casey endorsed “his friend” Biden just minutes after the former Vice President officially launched his campaign, while Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-Philadelphia), Matt Cartwright (D-Lackawanna), and Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia) endorsed Biden during his first full day as a declared candidate. All four of these elected officials participated in a Biden for President fundraiser in Philadelphia last night. Early polling shows Biden leading by double digits in the crowded Democratic field in Pennsylvania. Securing the endorsements of two Philadelphia Congressmen, who represent two of the most blue districts in the state, and the support of two Northeast Pennsylvania Democrats can help him appeal to different groups of voters in the April 2020 primary.
John Green. The former Philadelphia Sheriff pleaded guilty to felony and conspiracy charges earlier this week, while he was less than a week away from a scheduled retrial on allegations that he “steered contracts” worth more than $35 million to a campaign contributor in exchange for $1 million in benefits over the span of nine years, the Philadelphia Tribune reports. Last year Green, the city’s longest serving sheriff who served from 1988 to 2010, was acquitted on three of the five charges, but doubted he would be successful in the upcoming retrial. Green’s maximum sentence is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
PA Drug Deaths. It may be just a minor victory, but for the first time in five years, drug deaths dropped in Pennsylvania. The Morning Call reports that according to the state’s opioid data dashboard, drug deaths are down more than 23%, while the “number likely will rise slightly after toxicology reports are completed.” 4,267 people in the state died from drug overdoses in 2018, which is almost 1,300 fewer than the previous year.
Joe Scarnati. The Senate President Pro Tempore will not have to personally pay nearly $30,000 in legal bills for lawyers in regards to the redistricting case. A federal appeals court reversed a judge’s decision to make Scarnati pay this, arguing the Senator was sued in his professional capacity, so he is not liable personally, according to the AP.
John Joyce. The freshman GOP Congressman had to walk back some statements he made after a recent trip to the U.S./Mexican border. Joyce, a physician, said in interview with the AP and the Tribune-Review that there were cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis among immigrants at the border, according to Philly Voice. A spokesman for the Yuma County Health Department said there were no cases of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis there and had not been in the last six to seven years. A spokesman for Joyce said the Congressman received the information from Jonathan Lines, an Arizona businessman who sits on the Arizona-Mexico Commission and served as the Chairman of the Arizona GOP until this year.
Internet Sales Tax Revenue. The new tax on internet sales is bringing in more money that expected. The tax, targeting online retailers like Amazon, requiring them to apply the state sales tax to items they sell via third-parties, is on track to make six times more than originally expected, according to WESA. The state’s Independent Fiscal Office said it’s on track to make $300 million, while it was expected to bring in $50 million in its first fiscal year.
Block Communications Inc. Susan Allan Block, wife to Allan Block and board member for the company that owns the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, shared what City Paper writes as “anti-Muslim conspiracy theories” in the wake of the Notre Dame cathedral fire in Paris. She shared a doctored photo on Facebook that showed two men who were photoshopped at the scene of the fire laughing as Notre Dame was burning. Block wrote that “Even if it was on purpose we will never be told that! Can you imagine what the French response would be to that! Uncontrollably! Total chaos! We will never know!” Multiple employees at the Post-Gazette offered their frustration with the post, after a reporter at The Blade, also owned by Block Communcations Inc., screenshot the post. City Paper noted a tweet from Post-Gazette web associate/designer Matt Moret saying, “Nothing to see here, just a head of my news company spreading bigoted falsehoods and questioning the validity of an industry propping up her wealth.” There has be an ongoing feud between the newsguild of Pittsburgh, the union the represents the Post-Gazette staffers and Block Communications Inc.
Tony George. The Mayor of Wilkes-Barre, and former police chief for the city from 2000 to 2004, lost the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 36. The union endorsed George in his 2015 bid, which they say he ran on a “law and order” platform, has not performed up to expectation, particularly criticizing him for appointing “two unqualified people” to lead the department, Citizens Voice reports. George responded by saying he didn’t seek the FOP endorsement this bid and was happy to receive the backing from the Wilkes-Barre Democratic Committee.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
“..and if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” – Nietzsche pic.twitter.com/HItV5uZWTS
— Stephen Caruso (@StephenJ_Caruso) April 23, 2019