Doug G. Ware
United Press International
PHILADELPHIA (UPI) — Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams resigned from office Thursday after pleading guilty to a bribery charge in a federal corruption case that now has him facing prison time.
Williams brought a sudden end to the case at Philadelphia’s James A. Byrne Federal Courthouse as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors — which mandated he plead to one count of bribery and resign from office immediately.
After the plea, Williams appealed to U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond that he be allowed to remain free on bond until his sentencing in four months, but that request was denied. The former D.A. was then handcuffed by U.S. marshals and remanded into custody.
Williams said he is strapped for cash and could not afford to flee — a remark the judge didn’t buy.
“I have a guilty plea from the highest law officer in the city that he betrayed his office and he sold his office,” Diamond replied to Williams’ bond request. “I am appalled by the evidence that I heard.
“I simply do not credit this defendant’s testimony. I do not believe him.”
In making his plea, which followed a full week of trial proceedings, Williams admitted he accepted bribes from a Bucks County businessman in return for favors he could grant as Philadelphia’s top prosecutor. Among the gifts were a trip to the Caribbean worth $6,000 for Williams and a girlfriend, a Louis Vuitton neck tie, a Burberry watch, $7,000 in cash, a $3,000 couch and pricey meals. In return, Williams helped the businessman with security issues at the Philadelphia International Airport and promised to look into a criminal case involving a friend of his, NBC 10 reported.
The network reported that the plea agreement was reached about 1 a.m. Thursday.
Federal prosecutors said Williams took “tens of thousands” of dollars in gifts, defrauded a nursing home and friends of money intended for a family member’s care, and used political funds and government vehicles for his personal benefit.
In court Thursday, Williams said that he resigns “humbly, sincerely and effective immediately.”
“I’m very sorry for all the trouble,” the former D.A. told the court.
Williams, 50, had faced nearly 30 corruption charges that could have brought substantial prison time. As a result of his plea, he faces a maximum of five years and a possible $250,000 fine. He will be sentenced Oct. 24.
At trial, prosecutors argued that Williams was motivated to accept graft by mounting financial struggles — although Philadelphia’s district attorney takes a yearly salary of $175,000. In April, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court suspended his license to practice law and the city ethics board fined him nearly $65,000 for unlawfully accepting about $175,000 worth of gifts — actions that became central tenets of the U.S. government’s corruption case against him.
Among the gifts the ethics board said it uncovered were a free roof from a New Jersey contractor and sideline passes to Philadelphia Eagles football games at Lincoln Financial Field.
First Assistant D.A. Kathleen E. Martin will take over responsibility as Philadelphia district attorney until a permanent successor is elected.
“I could not be more proud of how my hardworking colleagues have conducted themselves in light of the investigation and prosecution of Mr. Williams,” she said in a statement. “With the conclusion of this case, Philadelphians should know that their District Attorney’s Office continues the pursuit of justice and the hope for a safer city endures.”
“Today’s conviction is a great victory in the battle against corrupt conduct by public officials,” U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick said later at a news conference.
“Williams owed the public a duty to act according to the highest legal and ethical standards,” he added in a statement. “Seth Williams breached that trust; he abused his power; and he will now be held accountable for his actions.”
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