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Update: Philadelphia prosecutor charged in $160k gifts probe

Written by MaryClaire Dale/The Associated Press | Mar 21, 2017 1:11 PM
sethwilliams_lookingdown.jpg

Photo by AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

In this Feb. 10, 2017, file photo, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams speaks during a news conference in Philadelphia. A law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the investigation says the FBI and IRS will announce corruption charges Tuesday, March 21, 2017, against Williams. The charges come after a lengthy investigation into $160,000 in gifts that Williams failed to report, including a new roof, a $2,700 couch and luxury vacations.

(Philadelphia) -- Philadelphia's top prosecutor was charged Tuesday 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.

The indictment caps a nearly two-year investigation into Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams' financial affairs. Williams, a Democrat and career prosecutor who earns $175,000 in the top job, has said he ran into financial trouble after a divorce and while paying private school tuition for his daughters.

The indictment described gifts that included stays he took with his then-girlfriend in a presidential suite of a Punta Cana resort; a custom $3,400 sofa; and a used Jaguar convertible, with insurance coverage to match.

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.

Williams was spending Tuesday huddled with family, a spokesman said, and was expected to surrender and be arraigned on the charges Wednesday. Defense lawyer Michael Diamondstein said they would vigorously defend the charges.

Williams, the city's first black district attorney, announced last month he would not run for a third term this year. The 50-year-old said he showed poor judgment and regretted "mistakes in my personal life and in my personal financial life."

As recently as January, Williams had hoped to weather the scandal, vowing to earn back the "trust and respect" of his staff and the public. However, questions about the investigation dogged him as he tried to carry out his duties.

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

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.

"My poor judgment caused distractions, and made the already difficult job of my ... staff even more difficult," Williams said.

During his seven-year tenure, his office filed the first charges against several Roman Catholic priests and earned a trial conviction against the first U.S. church official ever charged over the handling of priest sex-abuse complaints. The conviction has since been overturned, although the official served nearly three years in prison.

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.

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.

An earlier story is below.

(Philadelphia) -- The city's top prosecutor will be charged in a corruption case Tuesday after a nearly two-year investigation by the FBI, IRS and others, according to a law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the investigation.

The investigation into embattled Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has centered on $160,000 in gifts that the Democrat failed to report, including a new roof, a $2,700 couch and luxury vacations.

The law enforcement official wasn't authorized to release the information ahead of a Tuesday afternoon news conference and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Williams, the city's first black district attorney, announced last month he would not run for a third term this year. The 50-year-old said he showed poor judgment and regretted "mistakes in my personal life and in my personal financial life."

As recently as January, Williams had hoped to weather the scandal, vowing to earn back the "trust and respect" of his staff and the public. However, questions about the investigation dogged him as he tried to carry out his duties.

Philadelphia lawyer Michael Diamondstein said in a tweet that he is representing Williams and that they plan to vigorously defend the charges.

Williams' spokesman Cameron Kline said the district attorney was not in the office Tuesday because he was 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," he said.

Williams, who earns $175,000 in the job, has said he encountered financial problems amid a divorce and tuition costs for his children. He also teaches law school and serves in the National Guard.

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.

"My poor judgment caused distractions, and made the already difficult job of my ... staff even more difficult," Williams said.

During his seven-year tenure, his office filed the first charges against several Roman Catholic priests and earned a trial conviction against the first U.S. church official ever charged over the handling of priest sex-abuse complaints. The conviction has since been overturned, although the official served nearly three years in prison.

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.

Williams grew up in Philadelphia and served as student president of Pennsylvania State University.

An earlier story is below:

A law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the investigation says the FBI and IRS will announce corruption charges Tuesday against embattled Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.

The official wasn't authorized to release the information ahead of an afternoon news conference and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The charges come after a lengthy investigation into $160,000 in gifts that Williams failed to report, including a new roof, a $2,700 couch and luxury vacations.

Williams, the city's first black district attorney, announced last month he would not run for re-election this year. The 50-year-old Democrat said he showed poor judgment and regretted "mistakes in my personal life and in my personal financial life."

Williams has said he encountered financial problems amid a divorce and tuition costs for his children.

The AP left messages for Williams' spokesman and lawyer.

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