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State Dems broke ties with political consultant days before FBI raids

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Don Spatz | Reading Eagle
FBI officials searched the home of Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer on July 10, 2015.
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Don Spatz | Reading Eagle
FBI officials searched the home of Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer on July 10, 2015.
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Margo Reed | Reading Eagle
An FBI agent reviews information after raiding Allentown City Hall July 10, 2015, when Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer's office and others were scoured for copies of city contracts and campaign records. Agents also stormed Spencer's Reading home.

HARRISBURG — State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn heard rumors of trouble but said that’s not why he severed relations with companies owned by political consultant Mike Fleck two days before the FBI raided Allentown’s city hall for records of vendors, including Fleck and his H Street Strategies firm.

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party paid Fleck’s companies $10,593 during part of 2014 through June 1, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission and some that Burn provided.

The party did not deal with Fleck, Burn said, and fired his companies for performance problems.

“I had heard rumors, but I always hear rumors like that, about practically everyone,” Burn wrote in an email following a phone interview. “This was a business decision.”

Fleck wore a wire, The Morning Call of Allentown has reported, as part of an FBI investigation that involved seizing records of more than 20 companies and individuals from Allentown and Reading city halls.

No one has been charged as a result of the municipal investigations.

Fleck shut down H Street Strategies shortly after the investigation became public and his whereabouts are unknown, former employees say.

The Tribune-Review could not reach him for comment.

Fleck worked as a consultant for Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, a gubernatorial candidate in 2014 and briefly a U.S. Senate candidate this year, and Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer was his client. He also worked for ex-Treasurer Rob McCord’s gubernatorial race last year after Pawlowski pulled out.

McCord pleaded guilty in February to shaking down state contractors for campaign money. He has not been sentenced.

Burn, of Millvale, said he dealt with Celeste Dee, one of Fleck’s employees, for fundraising efforts. He hired Fleck’s company Seven Points in 2014 and H Street Strategies in 2015.

Burn said he severed the relationship because “as we got into 2015, it wasn’t working.” The company wasn’t producing the results he suggested.

In a June 30 email to Fleck, Burn wrote: “Pursuant to the provisions of our contract, allow this email to serve as notice that the Pennsylvania Democratic Party is terminating its contract with H Street, effective immediately. We will remit payment for all services pursuant to the contract through June 30, 2015.”

Dee, a Democratic operative with experience on several campaigns, confirmed that she worked for the party as Fleck’s employee.

“I was the only person doing that work,” she said.

Dee said she left Fleck’s company on June 29 or 30 and is forming a consulting company with another of his former employees.

“I heard rumors; everyone heard rumors about Mike Fleck,” she said. But Dee said she never witnessed anything untoward.

“Mike became all about the money and all about the fees, not the services,” she said. “Did he do anything out of line? I don’t know. He talked a good game and there was a lot of B.S. and bravado.”

Pawlowski and Fleck were friends, Dee said, and it would be wrong to suggest that Fleck left Pawlowski to help McCord with his gubernatorial campaign.

“He never left” Pawlowski, when the mayor dropped out of the race, Dee said.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].

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