PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Opening their federal bribery case against Philadelphia’s district attorney Tuesday, prosecutors painted R. Seth Williams as a lifestyle-addicted hustler, cheating everyone from the voters to his own mother to bankroll his luxurious tastes.
Williams, a Democrat who became the first black DA in the city and the commonwealth in 2010, has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of corruption.
His trial before a federal jury in Philadelphia is expected to last four weeks, during which time Williams’ role as DA is being filled by deputies.
Though Williams has not resigned from his position, the 50-year-old has voluntarily suspended his law license and announced he will not run for a third term.
In addition to the bribery charges, prosecutors say Williams defrauded his mother’s retirement funds and used city property for personal reasons.
The defense has admitted that Williams’ behavior constituted a severe lack of judgment, but they are adamant that no laws were broken.
Indeed Pennsylvania law allows public officials to receive virtually unlimited gifts, argued defense attorney Thomas Burke, so long as the donor isn’t seeking to influence policy.
They do still have to disclose these gifts, and Williams failed to disclose more than $160,000 worth since 2010, but Burke said this is an issue for the city’s ethics board, but not federal prosecutors.
“There wasn’t quid pro quo,” Burke said. “They found the this, but not the that.”
U.S. Attorney Vineet Gauri hopes to show that Williams agreed to influence trial schedules and interstate commerce law enforcement on behalf of his benefactors, businessmen Mohammed Ali and Michael Weiss, who own a phone card retail company and famous gay bar called Woody’s, respectively.
In addition to claiming that Williams helped Ali’s friend beat drug charges, prosecutors say the prosecutor pressured airport security into going easy on Ali, and pushed for a reinstatement of Weiss’ California liquor license.
It is not clear if Ali or Weiss made cash donations to Williams, or gave him physical gifts.
Defense attorney Burke insisted meanwhile that Williams did these favors out of the “love of friendship,” saying the three men “texted each other like school girls.”
“They will not be able to prove he committed these crimes,” Burke said of the prosecution.
U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond is presiding over the trial.