PHILADELPHIA (CN) – A wealthy businessman who pleaded guilty to bribing Philadelphia’s top prosecutor took the stand Thursday, detailing the $700 steak dinners, $4,000 vacations and other gifts he gave District Attorney R. Seth Williams.
Though Williams denies that the gifts he received were bribes, Philadelphia businessman Mohammed Ali, 40, testified Thursday that he never received any “gifts” in return.
Ali did face less scrutiny at airport security, thanks to some strings Williams pulled, he testified.
“I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to ask him for something I needed, this all goes back to the airport,” Ali told the court Thursday, responding to a question about why he never sought repayment of a $7,000 loan he cut Williams.
A Jordanian-born naturalized U.S. citizen who made his fortune in an international calling-card empire, Ali said he had sought Williams’s help because airport security and customs typically caused him two-hour waits, along with his wife whose, Anna, citizenship application was rejected.
Things changed when the Williams and Ali families returned from a getaway to Punta Cana, paid for by Ali. Federal prosecutors say Williams allegedly got in touch first with Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Sullivan.
At the end of the trip, Ali testified, a police officer met him right off the plane and accompanied him through a 10-minute customs inspection.
Chuckles erupted in the courtroom when he said Williams texted that the police escort must have been waiting “because they thought it was the boxer.”
Testifying for hours Thursday, Ali said he was having a $700 steak dinner with Williams at Philadelphia’s Fogo de Chao when he complained about the status of his wife’s citizenship application.
Williams then set up a meeting between the Alis and Rep. Robert Brady, a Democrat who represents Pennsylvania’s first congressional district.
Ali said he asked Williams via text message to talk to Brady once more before the meeting. Williams allegedly responded: “Yes, I will. You are my brother I feel bad for Anna.”
Recalling an instance when Williams’ position as DA proved helpful, Ali testified about a plea deal that prosecutors offered a DJ friend, Michael Meyers, on criminal charges.
The case involved drugs, but Ali says Meyers lied about the nature of his case when asking for his help.
Though the plea offer carried a prison term of 18 months to three years, Ali said Meyers was desperate to stay out of jail, or do as little time as possible. Ali texted Williams with the case number. The night before the plea-bargain deadline, Ali said he asked Williams for help once more.
“There is very little I can do the day before without it looking suspicious,” Williams responded. “If it gets continued … I’ll see what I can do to get a county sentence.”
“In the future, always give me a week to help a friend,” Williams aded.
Ali responded with his gratitude, saying he hoped to see Williams become “the next mayor, governor and even president.”
Ali looked regretful as he admitted to the jury that he knew it was wrong to ask Williams to intervene on Meyer’s behalf, but remained adamant that he had no way of knowing if Williams actually intervened.
Ali faces cross-examination by Williams’ defense attorney Thomas Burke on Friday.
U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond is presiding over the case, which began Wednesday and expected to last another three weeks.
A Democrat who became the first black DA in the city and the commonwealth in 2010, Williams is charged with 23 counts of bribery and fraud. Though the has not resigned from his position as DA, the 50-year-old has voluntarily suspended his law license and announced he will not run for a third term.