PHILADELPHIA (CN) - The district attorney of Philadelphia pleaded not guilty before a federal judge Wednesday to charges that he performed official acts in exchange for bribes and defrauded a nursing home.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office unsealed its 23-count indictment against District Attorney R. Seth Williams late Tuesday. A Democrat elected in 2010, Williams is both Philadelphia and Pennsylvania’s first black DA.
Prosecutors say Williams, 50, began accepting gifts from an unnamed business owner as soon as he took office in 2010. A second business allegedly began bribing Williams, who earns an annual salary of $170,000, in 2012.
One perk that the first benefactor wanted, according to the indictment, was for Williams to ensure that he faced limiting security screening by law enforcement when entering the United States from abroad.
Identifying the supporter only as Business Owner #1, the government says Williams also helped one of the man’s associates obtain a “more favorable plea offer” in a criminal case.
Prosecutors note that the gifts Williams received were worth tens of thousands of dollars, but that he failed to report them.
At this afternoon’s plea hearing, defense attorney Michael Diamondstein maintained that none of the gifts Williams received influenced his decisions as district attorney.
Williams “denies that he ever compromised any investigation, case or law enforcement function,” Diamondstein said.
Prosecutors released text messages along with the indictment to show otherwise. “Sorry Seth he just texted me,” Business Owner #1 wrote to Williams on Sept. 18, 2012. “I’ll text you what he just sent me: No not yet. My trial date is tomorrow. [Assistant DA] offered me 1.5-3 years. I am trying to her a slightly better offer.”
Williams replied: “It seems like he has the possibility of having it thrown out or continued … if it gets continued I will then ask for the file and see what can be done to make it a county sentence.”
The DA went on to warn the business owner to “always give me a week to help a friend.”
U.S. District Judge Richard Loret released Williams this afternoon on a $50,000 bond. Representatives for the government declined at a press conference after the hearing to say why the business owner requested help entering the country.
In addition to bribery and extortion charges, Williams is accused of wire fraud with regard to a relative who was living in a nursing home.
Prosecutors say Williams was obligated to ensure that his relative’s pension and Social Security payments went toward that nursing home stay. Instead he kept the payments for himself between February 2012 and November 2013, according to the indictment. The relative’s friends also sent Williams $10,000 to pay for nursing home care, and prosecutors say Williams kept this money for himself as well.
The indictment says Business Owner #1 gave Williams a check for $7,000, approximately $2,000 in cash and an all-expenses-paid trip to Punta Cana. Williams also allegedly received a Burberry watch from this man and a Burberry purse for his girlfriend, as well as a Louis Vuitton tie, an iPad and a $502 dinner at a Philadelphia restaurant.
Business Owner #2 allegedly gave Williams a 1997 Jaguar XK8 convertible, $900 cash and “16 round-trip airline tickets to Florida, San Diego, and Las Vegas for himself, his girlfriend and members of his family.”
The gifts stopped flowing in 2015.
Williams is the latest corruption scandal to stain a Pennsylvania public official. Kathleen Kane, the first woman and first Democrat to serve as Pennsylvania attorney general, began the process of appealing her perjury conviction earlier this year.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.