Former Philly Prosecutor Gets 5-Year Prison Sentence

Defense attorney Thomas Burke speaks to reporters on Oct. 24, 2017, outside the courthouse in Philadelphia after a federal judge sentenced disgraced former prosecutor R. Seth Williams to five years in prison. (LOWELL NEUMANN NICKEY/CNS)

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – A federal judge handed a five-year prison sentence Tuesday to former Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams who pleaded guilty to corruption this summer.

Describing the former lawyer’s dishonesty as “profound,” U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond chastised Williams for effectively stealing money from his mother, defrauding his own Super PAC, and humiliating the men and women of the District Attorney’s Office.

Williams was indicted on 29 charges of corruption and bribery in March and pleaded guilty to a single count in June, about midway through his trial.

Diamond skewered defense attorney Thomas Burke at Tuesday’s hearing for his bid to have 50-year-old Williams await his prison assignment on house arrest.

“When I read your request, that the defendant be allowed to self-surrender so he could visit his mother, I thought to myself, ‘the English language doesn’t have the words to capture the outrageousness of that request, whether its bold, hubris, brash, audacity,” Diamond said.

“The defendant stole from his mother, and now wants to visit her,” the judge continued. “My consideration of your client as a flight risk on June 29 has not changed, your request is denied.”

Williams, dressed in green sweatpants and a brown T-shirt, teared up as his attorney read a letter from his ex-wife, Sonita Williams, which described him as a good, but flawed family man.

“Seth has lost everything, the career he has built, the respect of his colleagues and even his very freedom,” Ms. Williams wrote.

Federal prosecutors bristled at William’s requests for leniency based on his years of public service, saying that it is not something that gives him the right to a lower penalty. U.S. Attorney Robert A. Zauzmer warned this treatment could set a bad precedent in an already troubled city.

“Oh, I’ll go commit a crime because I’ll get a better punishment for my good public service,” said Zauzmer.

A lot of public officials work for a lot less than the $200,000 salary that Williams raked in as a district attorney, the prosecutor noted.  “To be exposed to an elected official who sold his office for favors has a devastating effect on them and their pursuit of justice,” Zauzmer added.

Zauzmer also rejected the notion that an ethics boards should have handled Williams’ misconduct. “He is a criminal, and he was a criminal over a long period of time,” the prosecutor said. “Ordinary citizens do not need an ethics adviser to tell them not to take bribes or defraud a nursing home.”

Diamond ultimately agreed with prosecutors, sentencing Williams to 60 months in federal prison, a term within the recommended guidelines. Zauzmer told the court they did not seek any additional time given Williams’ record of service to the community, military and local Catholic church.

Williams was instrumental in prosecuting pedophile priests during the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s molestation scandal.

Diamond said too many public officials in Philadelphia see their positions as licenses to be corrupt, and hoped this case would send a message across the city.

Chaka Fattah, an 11-term Democratic congressman, was given a 10-year federal prison sentence this year after a corruption prosecution. Fattah’s son was also found guilty on 22 out of 23 counts in a federal bank and tax fraud case in which he represented himself.

Earlier this month, another Philadelphia politician named Jimmie Moore pleaded guilty to having deceived the Federal Election Commission about money he accepted to drop out of a congressional race. Moore, 66, was a former senior judge with the Philadelphia Municipal Court.

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