As the target of a multi-year undercover investigation headed by the FBI, Scranton Mayor William Courtright resigned from office on Monday and recently pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, bribery, and obstruction of commerce by extortion. Although the Pennsylvania mayor refused to resign when FBI investigators raided his home and office in January, Courtright officially resigned one day before announcing his guilty plea.
Serving as mayor of Scranton since 2014, Courtright illegally pressured several city vendors to make political contributions to his campaign committee in exchange for official actions taken on their behalf. While some of the donations went to his campaign committee, Friends of Bill Courtright, the former mayor admitted that he also kept some of the contributions which had been found in a safe locked in his basement.
Unbeknownst to Courtright, some of the people working for him were confidants secretly working undercover for the FBI. These confidential informants recorded multiple conversations with the mayor in which Courtright openly admitted to extorting vendors in exchange for official actions. In one instance, Courtright illegally issued a permit without proper documentation in exchange for a large political contribution to his campaign committee.
In January, the FBI raided Courtright’s home and his office. Federal investigators discovered $29,450 in a basement safe that could be traced back to illicit activity. Despite calls for his resignation, Courtright refused to resign as mayor.
But on Monday, Courtright officially resigned as mayor. The next day, he pleaded guilty to three felony public corruption offenses: conspiracy, bribery, and obstruction of commerce by extortion.
“In this County, in this Commonwealth, in this Country – our elected officials work for us,” said U.S. Attorney David Freed in a recent statement. “Not the other way around. Using public office for personal financial gain is a crime, plain and simple. All citizens, not just those of us in law enforcement, should demand that our public officials scrupulously follow the law. And when they do not, no matter how difficult the investigations may be, or how long they may take, the United States Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners will hold them to account.”
“Bill Courtright used the city of Scranton,” stated Michael Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “He traded on his office in exchange for money and other valuable favors. He wielded his official powers for his own benefit, when he should’ve been focused on that of his community. The FBI will never stop seeking to bring to justice corrupt public officials who so badly betray the public trust. To that end, we and our partners at the Pennsylvania State Police and the IRS have launched a task force specifically to take on public corruption in the northeast Pennsylvania region. We’re working on behalf of the people, who expect — and deserve — honest services from all their elected officials.”
Courtright’s sentencing is scheduled for November 14. He faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison and a $750,000 fine. According to the terms of his plea agreement, Courtright agreed to forfeit $36,705 that he acquired through illegal activity.
Courtright is the third current or former mayor to plead guilty to federal corruption charges in the last year and a half in eastern Pennsylvania. In October 2018, former Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski was sentenced to 15 years in prison after he was found guilty on 47 charges, including conspiracy, bribery, and attempted extortion. In April, Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer was sentenced to eight years in federal prison after he was convicted on 11 counts of corruption charges.