After pleading guilty to a federal bribery charge, former Philadelphia District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams was sentenced Tuesday to five years in prison. In addition to accepting numerous bribes and abusing his power, Williams also admitted to stealing money from his mother’s pension, defrauding a political action committee, and using law enforcement vehicles for personal use.
“Mr. Williams swore an oath that he would act according to the highest legal and ethical standards,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick on Tuesday. “Yet, as Philadelphia’s chief law enforcement officer, he accepted lavish gifts and other bribes in return for official favors, and even defrauded his own political action committee and his mother’s nursing home to pay for his personal expenses. Today’s sentence is a fitting punishment for an elected official who put his financial interests above his constituents and the dedicated public servants of the District Attorney’s Office.”
Elected District Attorney of Philadelphia in November 2009, Williams immediately began defrauding a political action committee named “The Committee to Elect Seth Williams” by using its funds for personal expenditures, including parties, birthday dinners, massages, and fitness classes. Between August 2010 and August 2016, Williams provided false reports to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and to the City of Philadelphia in order to conceal his crimes.
From February 2012 through November 2013, Williams also diverted money from his mother’s pension and Social Security payments to pay for his personal expenses. Despite the fact that Williams agreed to use that money to pay for his mother’s nursing home costs, the corrupt District Attorney accepted another $10,000 from his mother’s friends who intended to help pay for his mother’s nursing home expenses. Instead, Williams kept the $10,000 for himself and used it to purchase personal items.
Between July 2010 and May 2015, Williams accepted a multitude of bribes from a business owner named Mohammad N. Ali in exchange for performing official acts to legally protect Ali and his associates. While receiving cash, trips, and other expensive gifts from Ali, Williams helped Ali with security screenings at the airport and assisting with criminal charges brought by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office against Ali’s associate.
From March 2012 through July 2015, Williams accepted airline tickets, money, an automobile, and other luxurious items from a business owner named Michael Weiss. Besides appointing Weiss as Special Advisor to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office in November 2012, Williams also provided an official letter against revoking Weiss’ California liquor license and obtained a police accident report at Weiss’ request in July 2015.
On March 21, Williams was initially charged with a 23-count indictment. Less than two months later, the indictment reached 29 charges, including 11 counts of travel and use of interstate facilities to promote and facilitate bribery contrary to Pennsylvania law, two counts of Hobbs Act extortion under color of official right, two counts of honest services wire fraud, 12 counts of wire fraud, and two counts of mail fraud.
On June 29, the disgraced District Attorney pleaded guilty to one count of travel and use of interstate facilities to promote and facilitate bribery contrary to Pennsylvania law while admitting to accepting tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of concealed bribes in exchange for his agreement to perform official acts, defrauding a nursing home and family friends of money earmarked for a family member’s care, and using political action committee funds and official government vehicles for his personal benefit. On Tuesday, Williams was sentenced to five years in prison with three years of supervised release. Williams was also ordered to pay forfeiture of $33,009 and restitution of $58,422.83.
“Mr. Williams talked a good game. Unfortunately, ‘talk’ is all it was. In reality, he gamed the system. Feeling entitled to a certain lifestyle, he traded on his title of District Attorney in exchange for financial favors large and small,” said Michael Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “Williams traded on his elected office to live larger than its six-figure salary would allow – and as a result, lost both. His corruption now claims several years of his freedom, as well.”