Rufus Seth Williams made history as Philadelphia’s first black district attorney when he was elected in 2009, taking office at the beginning of 2010 with promises of reform and transparency in the criminal justice system.
Seven years later, Williams seems to have fallen from grace, with federal prosecutors indicting him Tuesday on a variety of bribery, extortion and other corruption charges.
The federal indictment charges Williams with intervening in court cases in return for favors from business owners — even helping one friend bypass airport security. He accepted a chocolate-colored couch, a used 1997JaguarXK8convertible, and tickets and lodging for classy vacations, the indictment says.
“Mr. Williams was willing to compromise his position of public trust for private financial gain,” acting New Jersey U.S. Attorney Williams Fitzpatrick said during a news conference to announce the indictment. (New Jersey prosecutors were invited to handle the investigation, but the case will be prosecuted in Philadelphia).
Williams allegedly took $10,000 intended for nursing home care for an elderly relative and spent it on himself, He also took the relative’s Social Security and pension payments, prosecutors said.
“Mr. Williams simply took money that did not belong to him and then he lied about it,” Fitzpatrick said. “He falsely told nursing home employees his relative, not himself, had spent the money.”
All told, Williams is charged with using his office to enrich himself to the tune of about $100,000 in gifts.
He previously was fined $62,000 by the city Ethics Board for failing to report $160,000 in gifts, the largest fine the board has ever issued.
He could face five to 20 years in prison per charge if convicted of the multiple charges filed against him, prosecutors said.
Williams already announced he won’t run for a third term because of the “embarrassment” of the financial scandals. He did not comment on the charges Tuesday, instead he spent the day with his family, according to an office spokesman.
Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Deborah R. Gross said Williams must resign immediately. “It truly is an embarrassment,” she said of the charges. “Such unethical behavior is unacceptable.”
Mayor Jim Kenney called the charges “disheartening” but did not call on Williams to resign.
“It is deeply shameful that the City’s chief law enforcement officer has been implicated in such a flagrant violation of the law,” he said in a statement. “We must all greatly raise the bar for our behavior and show the citizens of Philadelphia that we are capable of carrying out our most basic responsibilities as elected officials, upholding the law.”
From the indictment
Federal charging documents included this February 2012 text conversation purportedly showingWilliams accepting and soliciting illegal gifts.
Unidentified business owner: the guy pleaded guilty, he will take any punishment but he just doesn’t wanna do jail! … If you can do anything for him it would be very appreciative (as long as you have no problem with it).
DA Seth Williams: I will look into it.
UBO: [referring to trip to Puta Cana, Dominican Republic] April?
W: I am merely a thankful beggar and don’t want to overstep my bounds in asking… but we will gladly go.
UBO: [three weekslater, with picture of $3,200sofa] Is that it?
W: That is the exact one…but the special order color Chocolate.
Source: U.S. Attorney’s Office