Feds accuse Scranton ex-mayor of using office to take bribes
In this July 31, 2017 photo, Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright speaks to the media at Scranton City Hall in Scranton, Pa. following a grant presentation ceremony. Mayor Bill Courtright wrote City Council members to say he was stepping down Monday, July 1, 2019, a day before he’s scheduled to appear in federal court in what prosecutors said is a corruption investigation. (Christopher Dolan/The Times-Tribune via AP)
This in Jan. 28, 2019 photo, Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright departs from a funeral service for a Scranton Police patrolman at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton, Pa. Mayor Bill Courtright wrote City Council members to say he was stepping down Monday, July 1, 2019, a day before he’s scheduled to appear in federal court in what prosecutors said is a corruption investigation. (Christopher Dolan/The Times-Tribune via AP)
The mayor of Scranton used his office to extort bribes from people who did business with the city, federal prosecutors said in documents filed Monday, shortly after the second-term chief executive announced his resignation.
In a plea agreement signed last week by now former Mayor Bill Courtright and his lawyer, the U.S. attorney’s office said the Democrat pressured people who needed permits or contracts for cash, sometimes having them funnel it to him through intermediaries.
The criminal information that charges him with bribery, extortion and conspiracy said Courtright, 61, used his position “corruptly to obtain cash and other valuable property from others, with their consent, under color of official right.”
They said he also obtained “cash, campaign contributions and other valuable property from others, with their consent, induced by the wrongful use of fear of economic harm.”
Courtright, who informed city officials he was quitting in a one-sentence letter, did not return messages, nor did his attorney, Paul Walker.
Federal prosecutors said Courtright was due to appear early Tuesday before a federal judge in Williamsport, and they also planned a news conference that afternoon in Scranton.
The charging document accuses him of directing third parties to solicit payments, campaign donations and other property for him.
In one case, prosecutors said, the target was a business president who wanted to renew a contract to collect the city’s delinquent tax and trash bills.
Another case, they alleged, involved a developer who needed permits and licenses to do business in Scranton, but projects were halted and went ahead only after the unnamed person “agreed to provide financial support to Courtright.”
“In some instances, Courtright took adverse official action against persons and entities to cause them to make payments and contributions for the benefit of Courtright,” prosecutors alleged in the criminal information.
Courtright collected tens of thousands of dollars in cash, use of a beach property, carpentry at a karate club he owns and landscaping around his home, federal prosecutor said.
He allegedly stored thousands in cash from the delinquent bill collector and the developer in a safe at his home.
After the FBI searched Courtright’s home and office in early January, Walker said Courtright believed the investigation related to campaign finance, and said that Courtright denied any wrongdoing.
The Times-Tribune of Scranton said the city council has 30 days to pick a successor to serve the rest of Courtright’s term, with the council president serving as acting mayor in the interim. If the council does not act, after 30 days a county judge will designate the next mayor.
Courtright’s term as mayor of the 78,000-population city has about 2½ years remaining. Scranton is part of a state program for financially distressed municipalities.
In the past year, two other high-profile mayors in the eastern half of Pennsylvania have been sentenced for federal corruption convictions.
Former Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski was sentenced in October to 15 years in prison, while in April, former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer received eight years.