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Feds: Philadelphia prosecutor 'was constantly on the take'

Written by Anthony Izaguirre/Associated Press | Jun 20, 2017 12:30 PM
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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) -- The corruption trial of Philadelphia's district attorney began Tuesday with federal prosecutors telling jurors that the city's top law enforcer took tens of thousands of dollars in bribes, pocketed his elderly mother's pension checks, illegally siphoned off money from his own political action committee and misused government vehicles.

Prosecutors said Seth Williams "was constantly on the take," accepting illicitly earned perks such as vacations, cash and a Jaguar convertible in exchange for legal favors.
"Whenever Seth Williams had a chance to put his hand in someone else's pocket and take money, he did," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Vineet Gauri.

Williams' legal team offered a simple response to the allegations: The things the Democrat is accused of doing are not crimes.

Two businessmen bought Williams tickets to an all-inclusive Dominican Republic resort, paid for more than a dozen other flights and wrote him checks worth thousands of dollars, but those actions represented "sloppy" optics, not criminal activity, said defense lawyer Thomas Burke.

"What they're saying he's getting, he's getting, but he's not soliciting. And they're not in a briberous relationship," Burke said.

The lawyer said no case was compromised as a result of Williams' association with the businessmen, who were Williams' friends.

But prosecutors said Williams agreed to leverage his power as district attorney to intervene in legal matters on behalf of the businessmen, often alluding to reciprocal payments shortly before or after requests from his benefactors. They also allege that Williams filed false and misleading financial disclosure forms to conceal what he was doing.

In one instance, according to text messages, moments after saying that he would look into a criminal case of a friend of one of the businessmen, Williams floated the idea of a second all-inclusive vacation to the Punta Cana resort.

"April?" Williams asked in a text message, referencing a possible date for another trip to the Caribbean island where one of the businessmen had also previously paid for him to parasail and get a massage.

Another exchange detailed by the prosecution involved Williams accepting a $7,000 check in return for asking a police official to help one of the businessmen avoid secondary security screenings at Philadelphia International Airport.

Williams is also accused of taking his mother's pension and Social Security checks that were supposed to be used to pay for her nursing home.

His lawyer said the facility did not fully explain administrative processing procedures. "Nobody told him how it worked," Burke said.

Williams took office in 2010 and could have run for a third term this year, but he decided not to seek re-election. The charges against him were announced in March and his law license was suspended, but he has refused calls to resign.

The 23-count indictment has been a staggering blow for a district attorney who won the office on the promise of reform and was previously tasked with rooting out corruption when he served as the city's inspector general.

Gauri, the federal prosecutor, said Williams' experience makes the allegations all the more egregious.

"He knew better than to commit these crimes," he said.

An earlier story appears below.

(Philadelphia) -- Defense attorneys for Philadelphia's district attorney have offered a defense for bribery and other charges facing their client: They say the things he's accused of doing aren't crimes.

Prosecutors told federal jurors in their opening statement Tuesday that District Attorney Seth Williams was "constantly on the take." They allege the Democrat took tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from two businessmen in exchange for legal favors.

Defense attorney Thomas Burke said his client's relationship with the businessmen was "sloppy" optics but not criminal activity.

The businessmen bought him tickets to an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic, paid for more than a dozen other flights and wrote Williams checks worth thousands of dollars.

Burke says no case was compromised as a result of Williams' association with people he described as friends.

An earlier story appears below.

(Philadelphia) -- Federal prosecutors say Philadelphia's district attorney "was constantly on the take."

District Attorney Seth Williams is accused of taking bribes worth tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for legal favors. Federal prosecutors opened the Democrat's bribery trial by telling jurors about what they allege were five criminal schemes.

Authorities allege the city's top prosecutor accepted gifts including an all-inclusive Dominican Republic vacation, a couch and a Jaguar convertible from two business owners. They say in return, he intervened in legal matters on their behalf.

Williams has denied any wrongdoing. He is in his second term and decided not to run in this year's district attorney election.

He previously served as the city's inspector general and was responsible for investigating corruption.

An earlier story is below:

Opening statements are scheduled Tuesday morning in the federal bribery trial of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.

Jurors were selected Monday for the trial of the two-term Democrat, who's accused of taking bribes worth tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for legal favors.

Prosecutors allege Williams accepted gifts such as an all-inclusive vacation to the Dominican Republic, a couch and a Jaguar convertible from two business owners between 2010 and 2015. They allege he used his connections as the city's top prosecutor to intervene in legal matters on their behalf.

Williams has denied any wrongdoing. He won't seek a third term as district attorney.
Williams previously served as the city's inspector general and was responsible for investigating corruption and misconduct.

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