DA Seth Williams going to court on federal bribery, corruption charges

- Philadelphia's top prosecutor is scheduled to appear in federal court Wednesday, where he'll face arraignment on bribery and extortion charges.

Tuesday, District Attorney Seth Williams was indicted on federal bribery and fraud related charges. Authorities had launched an investigation into Williams and his interests back in 2015. 

Special agents with the FBI, IRS and Department of Homeland Security announced the charges at a Tuesday afternoon news conference. 

The grand jury indictment against Williams charges him with more than 20 criminal counts. They include travel and use of interstate facility to promote and facilitate bribery, Hobbs Act extortion, wire fraud, and related charges.  

READ MORE: Seth Williams Federal Indictment

Williams was charged with taking more than $160,000 in luxury gifts, Caribbean trips and cash, often in exchange for official favors that included help with a court case, according to a bribery and extortion indictment unsealed Tuesday.

In exchange, authorities said, he offered to help a friend's friend seek a reduced jail sentence in a criminal case run by his office, and took $7,000 for helping a business owner friend meet with an airport police official in an attempt to avoid enhanced screening when returning to the U.S. from foreign trips.

Williams also spent $10,000 from a joint account he shared with a relative meant for the relative's nursing home costs, the indictment said. 

Federal authorities launched their investigation into Williams in 2015, questioning his acceptance of certain gifts and favors.

As part of the federal grand jury probe, subpoenas were issued to the political action committee Williams used while running for office.

Last year the investigation expanded into Williams’ personal finances, along with the finances of the ‘Second Chance Foundation’ charity he started in 2011.

Williams, who began his term as District Attorney in 2010, was fined by the city's Board of Ethics as a result of the ethics violations connected to the acceptance of gifts.

Williams failed to disclose five sources of income and 89 gifts on financial statements from 2010 through 2015 and omitted 10 items on an amended statement. The gifts also included sideline passes for Philadelphia Eagles games for several years, nearly $21,000 in free airfare and a $6,500 Rolex watch from a girlfriend.

At the same time, he led a high-profile prosecution of Philadelphia lawmakers who had taken cash or jewelry, valued at perhaps a few thousand dollars, from an informant.

State laws require public officials to file annual reports and list gifts over $250. City officials cannot take anything worth more than $99 from anyone with an interest in any "official action." Federal bribery laws typically involve a "quid pro quo," or evidence the person got something in exchange for the gift.

MORE: DA Seth Williams announces he won't run for re-election

Williams apologized, vowing to win back the trust of Philadelphians.

Back in February, Williams announced that he would not seek a third-term in the Democratic primaries this May.

"After devoting more than 20 years of service to the city that I love and grew up in, as an assistant District Attorney, and as the Inspector General, and now as the District Attorney, I have made the very difficult decision not to seek re-election to a third term as the District Attorney of the City of Philadelphia," Williams said at the time..

Williams grew up in Philadelphia and served as student president of Pennsylvania State University. He also teaches at a law school and serves in the National Guard.

Williams attorney says he will vigorously defend himself against the charges. He vehemently denied that Williams ever took any action to affect a criminal case in his office.

Williams faces 5-20 years if convicted. Federal officials say this was Williams acting alone and the integrity of the DA's office was not impacted.  Williams has been tight-lipped about the probe since spending came under the microscope. He will appear in federal court to face the charges on Wednesday. 

A spokesperson for the District Attorney's office released this statement when asked for comment:

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office does not have any comment at this time. The DA is not in the office today because he is spending time with his family. I ask that you respect his privacy and the privacy of the men and women of the office so all of us can continue to do our jobs without the distraction of additional media attention.

Mayor Kenney released this statement: 
“It is deeply shameful that the City’s chief law enforcement officer has been implicated in such a flagrant violation of the law. At a time when our citizens’ trust in government is at an all-time low, it is disheartening to see yet another elected official give the public a reason not to trust us. That this comes at the head of our justice system is even more troubling. We must all greatly raise the bar for our behavior and show the citizens of Philadelphia that we are capable of carrying out our most basic responsibilities as elected officials, upholding the law.”  

From Rich Negrin, candidate for Philadelphia District Attorney:

"In light of his decision to not seek re-election, it comes as no great surprise that Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has been officially indicted. I would urge him to now resign from office. As I've said before, I had high hopes for Seth when he was first elected, as so many in the city did, but those high hopes were not met. It's a sad day when someone with such promise is brought down by bad decisions. Resigning now would allow the city and the district attorney's office to move forward. I believe we should aspire to nothing less than a national model of criminal justice reform and integrity in the DA's office. I look forward to leading the office into a new era of excellence that prioritizes a community-driven approach, erasing lines of division, and working collaboratively toward a shared vision for a stronger, safer city."

From Michael Untermeyer, candidate for Philadelphia District Attorney:

"Today is a sad day for our city. Once again, we are getting headlines for the wrong reasons. Seth Williams ran on reforming the criminal justice system. Though there has been some movement in that direction, Philadelphia still has one of the most dysfunctional criminal justice systems in the country.
"The status quo has failed us at every level. Now is the time to focus the discussion on the best ideas to move our city forward. From reforming our discriminatory cash bail system to effectively going after white collar crime and the organizations that corrode our communities, we must focus on improving the quality of life for every Philadelphian.
"We deeply need change in this office and our next District Attorney must have the ideas, integrity and independence to make those changes."

From Tariq El-Shabazz, candidate for Philadelphia District Attorney:

"I offer my support and gratitude to the hard-working men and women at the District Attorney's Office who, I know, will continue to fight for justice on behalf of the citizens of Philadelphia through this difficult time. They will do their jobs without losing a moment of focus from their goals. I know this because I know them."
"I trust in the justice system of this country and the validity of the allegations against District Attorney Williams will ultimately be decided by a jury of his peers. That is what makes our country special. I offer my thoughts and prayers to District Attorney Williams' and his family, particularly his daughters."
"These recent developments will not affect our campaign's focus on the issues that matter to voters or our ideas on how to make the District Attorney's Office a beacon for justice in our community."

Chancellor Deborah R. Gross of the Philadelphia Bar Association:

“This is a sad day for the citizens of Philadelphia.  It is imperative that DA Williams resign from his position immediately to maintain the integrity of, and restore the public’s confidence in, our justice system.
“The charges against him cast a shadow on the District Attorney’s Office, our legal community and the entire City of Philadelphia.  It truly is an embarrassment.  
“Our District Attorney is the chief prosecutor in the City of Philadelphia.  Such unethical behavior is unacceptable. Therefore, we call for his immediate resignation.” 

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