A custom couch. Trips overseas. A car. And tens of thousands of dollars in cold, hard cash.
The chief law enforcement officer in Philadelphia will stand trial starting today on federal corruption charges; R. Seth Williams is accused in connection with five separate schemes prosecutors say he enacted while he was in office. He announced in February that he wouldn’t seek re-election; despite calls from, well, basically everyone, he refused to resign.
Williams was first charged with with 23 counts of bribery, extortion and wire fraud in March and later charged with six additional counts. Williams pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his attorneys have denied wrongdoing, saying that “[s]imply because the government makes explosive allegations in a complaint doesn’t mean they’re going to prove it in a court of law.”
Federal prosecutors have laid out a host of alleged transgressions. Among the crimes he’s accused of: Taking those gifts in exchange for official acts as DA. Failing to report said gifts. Using government cars for personal transportation. And stealing money from his own mother.
It’s a lot to keep track of. Here’s a look at what he’s accused of doing (and all the stuff he allegedly amassed along the way):
1. Gifts from a guy who sold prepaid cell phones in Bucks County
Federal prosecutors say Williams spent about five years between 2010 and 2015 illegally accepting gifts from a Bucks County businessman in exchange for favors he’d complete as part of his official duties as district attorney. The businessman has since been identified as Mohammad N. Ali, who specialized in selling prepaid cell phones.
According to the indictment, Williams accepted vacation trips, gifts and cash from Ali, and then offered up favors like “limiting security screening by law enforcement authorities at the United States border” and offering up a “favorable” plea agreement for a close associate of Ali. Here’s what Williams allegedly accepted, according to the indictment:
- A trip to the Dominican Republic with his girlfriend that included round-trip airline tickets, meals and amenities while they were there, and special VIP perks like access to a private beach and a ~personal butler~. The trip — accepted in February 2012 — is valued at about $6,300.
- A custom sofa in which Williams, in a text sent in February 2012, specifically requested the color “chocolate.” The sofa is valued at about $3,200.
- A Louis Vuitton tie valued at about $205.
- An iPad worth about $300.
- A dinner for Williams and his girlfriend at an unidentified Philadelphia restaurant valued at about $500.
- A Burberry watch for Williams and a Burberry purse for his girlfriend. Federal investigators did not provide a cost estimate for these items, but safe to assume it’s in the hundreds.
- $9,000 in personal checks.
Total value of gifts he allegedly accepted from Ali: About $20,000.
Not only did he accept these gifts, according to prosecutors, but he failed to report them as part of his duties as a public official. Last summer — long after he became aware he was under federal investigation — Williams filed amended reports and included many of the gifts he’s purportedly accepted from Ali.
Because of his failure to properly report these and other gifts and expenses, Williams was slapped with a record fine by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics: $62,000.
2. Gifts from a Center City bar owner, for favors
According to the indictment, Williams allegedly forged a relationship with a Center City bar owner and then accepted gifts in exchange for favors. That person, since identified as Woody’s co-owner Michael Weiss, gave Williams airplane tickets, cash and a Jaguar, prosecutors allege. (Note: The car was used. Still — a Jaguar is a Jaguar.)
Here’s what Williams allegedly accepted from Weiss in exchange for favors:
- A pre-owned 1997 Jaguar and the value of insurance premiums. The car is valued at about $4,200.
- Round-trip airline tickets (in March 2012) for Williams and two family members to vacation in Florida. The tickets are valued at about $850.
- Round-trip airline tickets (in October 2012) for Williams and his girlfriend to vacation in California. The tickets are valued at about $2,000.
- Round-trip airline tickets (in March 2013) for Williams and two family members to vacation in Florida. The tickets are valued at about $1,200.
- Round-trip airline tickets (in December 2013) for Williams and his girlfriend to vacation in Las Vegas. The tickets are valued at about $1,200.
- Round-trip airline tickets (in March 2015) for Williams and two family members to vacation in Florida. The tickets are valued at about $1,000.
- Cash payments totaling about $900.
Total value of gifts he allegedly accepted from Weiss: About $7,100.
Prosecutors say that in exchange, Williams appointed Weiss as a special advisor to the District Attorney’s Office, complete with an ~official badge~. He also, according to the indictment, helped Weiss get out of a legal mess involving a bar he owned in California.
At the time in 2013, the state of California was considering revoking Weiss’ liquor license after he pleaded guilty to tax fraud. According to prosecutors, Williams issued a letter to the state in his capacity as district attorney of Philadelphia that vouched for Weiss. Williams also allegedly provided Weiss with a police accident report related to a car accident.
Like the first alleged scheme, Williams didn’t report the gifts he accepted from Weiss until it was known to him that he was under federal investigation last summer. Williams filed amended reports, but he still neglected to report that pre-owned 1997 Jaguar.
3. Spending $20K earmarked for mom’s nursing home
Prosecutors say that between 2012 and 2013, Williams diverted about $10,000 of his mother’s Social Security and pension payments and used them for personal gain while she was living in a nursing home. In addition, “after accepting $10,000 from friends of his relative intended to cover expenses for the relative’s nursing home care, Williams spent the money on his personal expenses instead,” according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege Williams spent his mother’s pension and social security payments — which were deposited into a joint bank account between the two — on his own mortgage and electricity payments instead of using it to pay for nursing home services. Apparently in 2012, Williams then told nursing home employees that his mother was the one spending the cash, not him. Prosecutors say he ultimately spent $10,319 of his mother’s pension and social security money.
In addition, according to the indictment, friends of Williams offered up a $10,000 check to help defray nursing home costs. Williams then allegedly turned around and spent it on restaurant expenses and groceries while vacationing in St. Michaels, Maryland, mortgage payments, tuition and withdrawals of cash.
4. Spending campaign cash on not-campaign things
Williams is accused of defrauding the Friends of Seth Williams Political Action Committee by allegedly funneling more than $10,000 in political donations — which by law must be used for political and campaign activities — and using them for personal expenses, like massages and fancy dinners with his girlfriend. He then failed to correctly report the transactions to the appropriate state and local agencies.
In fall 2010, the Friends of Seth Williams PAC disbursed checks totaling about $4,000 to an unnamed political consultant, who then turned around and wrote a check to Williams for about $4,000 just a few days later, according to the indictment. He then allegedly used the PAC’s debit card to pay for the following:
- A New Year’s Eve celebration at the Union League for he and his girlfriend in December 2013. Cost: $677.98.
- A Union League facial and massage in January 2014. Cost: $195.50.
- A birthday dinner for his girlfriend in April 2014 at the Union League. Cost: $777.19.
- A birthday dinner for his girlfriend in April 2015 at the Union League. Cost: $2,674.41.
- A Union League massage, facial, gift card and fitness classes in January 2015. Cost: $491.50.
- Massages at the Union League in May 2015. Cost: $211.50.
- Multiple massages at the Sporting Club at the Bellevue. Total cost: $772.
(Postscript: He’s since been banned from the Union League.)
Prosecutors allege Williams then incorrectly reported these expenses and others in campaign finance reports, saying they were “membership dues” or “gym expenses.” At one point in 2013, he inaccurately described $64 in personal expenditures at the Sporting Club at the Bellevue for clothing — including women’s leggings! — as “gym expenses.” (Unless “leg day” for Seth Williams means something entirely different.)
In his 2012 report, Williams wrote off a $600 hotel stay in State College from September 2012 as “Democratic National Convention.” Except the DNC was not actually held in State College in 2012. It was in Charlotte, North Carolina just a few days later. And Seth Williams would know that! He was there.
5. Using government cars for not-government things
Prosecutors say Williams used government vehicles provided by both the City of Philadelphia and a federal narcotics law enforcement program for (you guessed it!) personal gain.
It’s alleged that Williams “repeatedly” used these vehicles for personal reasons during non-work hours on weekends and nights, including to transport himself and family members outside the city. He even apparently directed his security detail to leave a vehicle at his home every weeknight so he’d have access to it.
According to prosecutors, Williams spent almost nothing on a personal vehicle for years, and incurred very few expenses related to purchasing a vehicle or paying for insurance, gas or maintenance.