Cor­rupt Dis­trict At­tor­ney Pleads Guilty to First Charge and Goes Di­rectly to Jail

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Not ev­ery Dis­trict At­tor­ney (DA) is a rot­ten SOB try­ing to rise to po­lit­i­cal power on the backs of vic­tims of the in­jus­tice sys­tem, but that seems to be the gen­eral pro­file in many states.

That is cer­tainly the pro­file in the case of Seth Wil­liams, but in this rare case per­haps jus­tice was served.

Faced with a 29-count de­tailed in­dict­ment that cov­ered ev­ery­thing from bribery to fraud and cor­rup­tion, on June 29 Philadel­phia Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­liams just – gave up and ac­cepted his plight.

The cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion that led to Wil­liams’ charges took al­most two years to put to­gether. It was a clas­sic ‘fol­low-the-money’ deep dive into many dif­fer­ent as­pects of his life.

As in many such cases, there was a trig­ger point that seemed the start­ing point for all that fol­lowed. The now for­mer Dis­trict At­tor­ney, who was paid $175,000 as his salary and had other ben­e­fits, claims he had fi­nan­cial prob­lems af­ter a divorce and while at­tempt­ing to con­tinue pay­ing for his daugh­ter’s pri­vate school­ing af­ter­wards. In­stead of seek­ing help or cut­ting ex­penses, af­ter the first il­le­gal gift or bribe was of­fered to him, he just kept tak­ing – and get­ting more cor­rupt with ev­ery new op­por­tu­nity.

On March 21, all that in­ves­ti­ga­tion came to an end, with a 29-count in­dict­ment that in­cluded the fol­low­ing ex­am­ples of Wil­liams’ cor­rupt ac­tions:

Gifts of a used Jaguar con­vert­ible, a cus­tom $3,400 couch, ‘do­nated’ home re­pairs of over $45,000, new suits, watches, spe­cial va­ca­tions and mul­ti­ple stays Wil­liams and his girl­friend-of-the-time took at a Punta Cana re­sort – where they had the Pres­i­den­tial suite all to them­selves

Quid pro quo ‘pay­backs’ by Wil­liams for th­ese and other gifts, in­clud­ing help­ing ar­range a re­duced sen­tence for some­one charged in a crim­i­nal case be­ing han­dled by Wil­liams’ of­fice, plus al­legedly tak­ing $7,000 to as­sist a busi­ness owner friend of his from hav­ing to go through spe­cial se­cu­rity screen­ing upon re-en­ter­ing the U.S. from over­seas.

In the in­dict­ment Wil­liams was charged with il­le­gally ac­cept­ing gifts in ex­change for le­gal fa­vors, fraud­u­lently strip­ping thou­sands of dol­lars from his past cam­paign monies to help pay his own per­sonal ex­penses, us­ing city ve­hi­cles for per­sonal use, and even steal­ing money pro­vided to pay for care for his mother in her nurs­ing home. The de­tailed charges cov­ered bribery, fraud, and ex­tor­tion.

Prior to be­ing charged for crim­i­nal ac­tions, Wil­liams had been found guilty by the Philadel­phia Board of Ethics in Jan­uary 2017 for many the items listed above, for a net of $160,500 in un­re­ported gifts and in­come. Th­ese cov­ered ac­tiv­i­ties from 2010 through 2015. Wil­liams had dis­closed those items him­self in a sup­ple­men­tal fi­nan­cial state­ment the pre­vi­ous year, but at the time had claimed the gifts and un­de­clared in­come were from friend and mem­bers of his fam­ily. That was enough to get the Ethics Board started. Af­ter they were done with their part of the case, the Ethics Board found 10 other items Wil­liams had ne­glected to dis­close, and even­tu­ally publicly fined him a $62,000 fine.

The Ethics Board also found 20 gifts from sources dis­al­lowed legally. Ac­cord­ing to their state­ment at the time, th­ese sources in­cluded “in­di­vid­u­als who had a fi­nan­cial in­ter­est that the Dis­trict At­tor­ney was able to sub­stan­tially af­fect through of­fi­cial ac­tion. They in­cluded crim­i­nal de­fense at­tor­neys who were han­dling cases pros­e­cuted by the Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice, as well as sub­or­di­nate em­ploy­ees and con­trac­tors of he Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice.”

Af­ter those find­ings, Wil­liams agreed to a pay­ment sched­ule for the fines. He also not sur­pris­ingly an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary 2017 that he would not be seek­ing re-elec­tion to another term of of­fice.

All that led eas­ily to the even­tual March 21 for­mal crim­i­nal charges filed against Wil­liams both for ac­cept­ing the in­ap­pro­pri­ate gifts and, more im­por­tantly, tak­ing the bribes, kick­backs and other items that were given to him in re­turn for twist­ing the law to help those giv­ing the gifts.

The crim­i­nal trial started and a jury trial pro­ceeded, with ev­ery sin­gle case of cor­rup­tion de­tailed, doc­u­mented and driven home against the for­mer DA. For any­one hav­ing heard what went on in the court­room, there was lit­tle doubt Wil­liams would go to prison for his ac­tions.

Then – al­most out of nowhere – on June 29, Wil­liams’ at­tor­ney an­nounced that Wil­liams had a state­ment to make be­fore the court. Then, in a sur­prise to most ev­ery­one not im­me­di­ately close to him, Wil­liams stood up, pled guilty to the first of the counts against him, and, tears in his eyes, said he was sorry for all he had done. The judge and the pros­e­cut­ing at­tor­ney in­volved chose to drop the other charges, in what was clearly a pre-ar­ranged deal with all par­ties con­cerned to get the mat­ter over with and per­haps pro­tect other par­ties from ex­po­sure.

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