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Allentown City Council hires former FBI agent to investigate allegations against Tuerk administration

Jason Addy
Former FBI special agent Scott Curtis (far right) speaks with Allentown City Council members (left to right) Candida Affa, President Cynthia Mota and Ed Zucal on Wednesday, June 5, before council hired him to investigate allegations of workplace discrimination.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A retired FBI special agent who led the investigation into former Mayor Ed Pawlowski will return to Allentown City Hall this year to examine allegations of workplace discrimination and racism.

Council voted 6-1 on Wednesday night to hire FLEO Investigations — run by 22-year federal investigator Scott Curtis — to lead the long-mooted investigation, first approved in October.

Councilman Santo Napoli was the lone member to vote against Curtis’ hiring after he raised concerns the committee skirted proper contracting processes to select him.

“Did we use a flawed process? I think we did."
Allentown City Councilman Santo Napoli

Napoli voted to approve the investigation last year.

“I wish it started yesterday, and it's something that I hope we can get to the finish line,” he said Wednesday.

He now worries they hired Curtis “without a really solid procurement process.”

The city issued a request for proposals after Mayor Matt Tuerk signed off on council's investigation last year, a request to which several companies responded, Napoli said.

But council later chose to form its own selection committee.

The committee’s three members — Ed Zucal, Ce-Ce Gerlach and Daryl Hendricks — never shared interview questions, scoring rubrics or transcripts from their meetings with candidates, Napoli said, emphasizing his concerns about a lack of “process and transparency.”

“Did we use a flawed process? I think we did,” Napoli said.

'No concerns'

Zucal defended the committee’s process.

“I have no concerns about how we did this, absolutely none,” he told LehighValleyNews.com.

He said members chose to nominate Curtis after speaking to three investigative agencies.

Curtis is the best investigator due to his price and availability, as well as his familiarity and past experience at Allentown City Hall, according to Zucal.

“I have no concerns about the selection process or my colleagues in selecting (Curtis)."
Allentown City Councilman Daryl Hendricks

And he's renowned for conducting “objective and neutral and confidential” investigations, Zucal said.

Gerlach said Wednesday she is “100% confident” in the process she, Zucal and Hendricks used to select an investigator.

Hendricks said the committee was “totally objective.

“I have no concerns about the selection process or my colleagues in selecting (Curtis),” he said.

Council's move to order an investigation into the administration "is historical” and one that no previous council has taken, Zucal said.

'Scare tactic'?

Curtis and his company will be tasked with investigating all firings, resignations and salary adjustments within city government since the start of 2022.

Council set that start date because “that’s when (Tuerk took over),” Zucal told LehighValleyNews.com after the meeting.

Vicky Kistler, who leads the city's community and economic development department, said Tuerk "has welcomed this (investigative) process" since last summer.

Council's decision to hire a former FBI agent is a "scare tactic" that could create a "hostile workplace" for employees, Kistler said.

"You bring in the FBI to deal with hardened criminals," she said.

Councilwoman Candida Affa also raised concerns about Curtis' decades of work for the FBI.

Hearing a former FBI agent will investigate City Hall "scares me," Affa said, challenging Curtis to conduct the discrimination probe "in a way that it's not an FBI investigation."

Returning to City Hall

Curtis was the FBI’s lead agent for an investigation into allegations of corruption surrounding Ed Pawlowski before he was charged in 2017.

The former mayor is serving a 15-year sentence at a Maryland federal prison after being convicted on 47 charges.

Curtis will now head council’s probe into allegations of workplace discrimination and racism. He will have the power to subpoena information from witnesses, thanks to the bill council members passed in October to authorize the investigation.

His hiring comes nine months after that authorization.

Residents called for an investigation at numerous meetings last summer after the NAACP’s Allentown branch published a letter with allegations about racism and discrimination within city government.

Members allocated at least $300,000 for the investigation after approving a one-word amendment that allows them to approve more money for Curtis.

Napoli said Wednesday he regrets supporting that amendment — adding “initial” to the bill approving the funding.

“That was a mistake. I'd love to have that vote back,” he said, adding a “cap” on the investigation’s potential cost would ease some of his concerns.

Zucal again on Wednesday said he expects the investigation to take about six months.