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