Federal prosecutors have indicted Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, a Democrat first elected in 2009, on 23 counts related to allegations of official corruption and fraud. Williams is accused of accepting gifts and bribes in exchange for favors of a professional nature, as well as for stealing more than $20,000 from his mother, who was in a nursing home. According to The Inquirer, Williams rejected a plea deal earlier this week, and is scheduled to surrender to authorities today.
The indictment describes two separate relationships Williams allegedly had with business owners he performed favors for. The first business owner (identified as pre-paid phone card seller Mohammad N. Ali) allegedly gave Williams nearly $11,000 worth of gifts and, including a Louis Vittion bag, an all-expenses paid trip to the Dominican Republic with "royal service" access to a private beach and personal butler for Williams and his girlfriend, a custom sofa, a $500 dinner, a Burberry watch, a Burberry purse for Williams' girflriend, plus $9,000 in cash and checks.
In return, the indictment alleges that, among other things Williams sought to assist Ali "in limiting security screening by law enforcement authorities at the United States border when attempting to return to the United States after foreign travel," specifically trying to help him avoid secondary screening when Ali would travel through the Philadelphia airport. Williams allegedly sought to pressure an unidentified police official into helping, and offered to write a letter in support of Ali to appropriate authorities—the feds say the official did nothing wrong, and The Inquirer is working on identifying them.
Williams is also accused of trying to help secure a better plea deal for a friend of Ali's who pled guilty on charges not specified in the federal indictment. Very shortly after Ali texted Williams for help and Williams responded that he'd look into it, the district attorney sent a second text message asking "April?", a reference to a potential second trip to the Dominican Republic. "I am merely a thankful beggar and don't want to overstep my bounds in asking… but we will gladly go," Williams wrote in a follow-up text. Ali ultimately texted Williams again the day before his friend was supposed to show up in court. The friend wanted a "slightly better" plea deal in order to avoid doing jail time outside of the city of Philadelphia. Williams told Ali to give him "at least a week to help a friend" next time.
The second allegedly illicit relationship described in the indictment was between Williams and business owners The Inquirer identified as Michael Weiss and his brother Bill, co-owners of a Philadelphia bar.
Michael Weiss' gifts and other bribes to Williams allegedly included multiple round-trip tickets to Florida and San Diego, a trip to Las Vegas, and a used 1997 Jaguar plus insurance payments, as well as $900 in cash. The indictment estimates the values of the gifts at about $13,600.
For Weiss, Williams appointed him a special advisor to the district attorney, giving him an official badge and leather holder and writing a letter of appointment backdated several months at Weiss' request. Williams also allegedly tried to help Weiss with a matter in front of the liquor board in California in relation to his ability to continue to be associated with establishments that hold liquor licenses after a 2010 conviction. According to the indictment, in emails to his political action committee to cover the cost of the badge and leather holder Williams made it clear the appointment was made for Weiss' fundraising prowess.
Williams allegedly texted Weiss asking if he had flashed his badge lately, and later hit Weiss up for a cash loan, blaming his money problems on his girlfriend not paying her bills.
Finally, the federal indictment also accuses Williams of using $10,319 of his mother's pension and social security income (she is identified in the indictment only as a relative in a nursing home but The Inquirer reports it is his mother), to which he had access, on himself instead, and of doing the same with a $10,000 gift his mother received from two friends to help her with her nursing home costs.
According to The Inquirer, the case against Williams "hardly comes as a surprise."
"Williams has been open about his financial problems since the FBI and the IRS began poking into his finances two years ago," The Inquirer reported. "He has complained of his inability to pay alimony stemming from a 2011 divorce and private-school tuition for his daughters, despite his salary of $175,572 a year."
The chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association called on Williams to resign, while federal authorities insist no one else at the District Attorney's Office was implicated in their investigation. Williams was fined earlier this year by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics for not disclosing nearly $200,000 in gifts he had received, including, as The Inquirer reports, "a new roof, luxury vacations, Eagles sidelines passes, and use of a defense attorney's home in Florida."
Williams brought similar charges against a number of Democratic state representatives just two years ago. Williams' term is set to expire next year and he was not going up for re-election in November.