On Tuesday, a federal grand jury indicted Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams on charges of bribery and fraud. The 50-page, 23-count indictment accuses Williams of accepting opulent gifts—including Burberry accessories, checks worth thousands of dollars, trips to a Dominican resort, and a $3,212 custom sofa—from various business owners for whom Williams was willing to do favors. Federal officials have described Williams’ behavior as a five-year corruption spree spanning 2010 to 2015.
Michael Harpster, the FBI Special Agent in Charge of the investigation, called Williams’ misconduct “brazen and wide-ranging.” In one instance, Williams allegedly accepted a vacation to the Dominican Republic, a custom sofa, a $502 dinner, a $7,000 check, $2,000 in cash, an iPad, and a Burberry watch and purse for his girlfriend from a local businessman. In exchange, Williams agreed to help the businessman avoid security screenings upon return from foreign travel. Williams also agreed to help one of the businessman’s associates avoid jail time—but not without asking for another trip to the Caribbean.
Widely viewed as a Democratic rising star, Williams became Philadelphia’s—and Pennsylvania’s—first African American district attorney when he assumed office in 2010. He made national headlines early in his tenure by reducing penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and overseeing the successful prosecution of notorious late-term abortion provider Kermit Gosnell. Williams was handily elected to a second term in 2014.
Williams’ public woes began in 2015, when reports first surfaced that he was under investigation by the FBI. That same year, Williams faced criticism for the minimal discipline he doled out to prosecutors found to be sharing pornographic and racially derogatory emails on government computers. And, in January of 2017, the Philadelphia Board of Ethics fined Williams a record $62,000 for his failure to report five sources of income and 89 gifts on city financial statements over six years.
Although Williams has vowed to fight the charges levied against him, he will not be seeking a third term as district attorney.
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