A few thousand dollars worth of bribes, including a Louis Vuitton tie, a used Jaguar, and a trip to an all-inclusive Dominican Republic resort, were all it took to bribe the Philadelphia district attorney, federal prosecutors say.
Seth Williams, who spent two terms as the city’s D.A., was indicted Tuesday on 11 counts of wire fraud, 10 counts of bribery, and two counts of extortion following a two-year federal investigation into his finances. The 50-page indictment reveals a low-level bribery scheme, primarily arranged through text messages, in which Williams agreed to do several favors in exchange for a series of gifts. He also stole money from a relative in a nursing home, the indictment alleges.
Prosecutors say Williams helped a phone card salesman identified as Mohammed N. Ali by arranging for him to avoid secondary customs screenings at Philadelphia International Airport and by attempting to intervene in the criminal prosecutions of at least two of Ali’s man’s friends.
For these alleged efforts, prosecutors say, Williams received:
• A $205 Louis Vuitton tie
• A $300 iPad
• A trip with to an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic with first class airfare worth about $4,805
• A custom-made $3,212 sofa
• A $502 dinner
• A $7,000 check
• $2,000 in cash
• A Burberry watch and purse
• “Meals and other valuable items”
According to text messages, Ali allegedly gave Williams the trip in exchange for Williams helping a friend of Ali’s avoid a jail sentence. After another request involving a friend who had or was about to plead guilty to a criminal offense, Williams advised Ali to give him more time to arrange favors going forward.
“In the future always give me at least a week to help a friend… I have no problem looking into anything,” Williams allegedly wrote in a text message. “I can’t promise I will drastically change anything once it has gotten to the trial stage but I can always look into it.”
“You know I was hesitating to ask!!!” Ali allegedly wrote back. “I know you would help me, but I wasn’t sure if it’s something that can bring suspicion, and this is the last thing I want to do to a friend like you Seth! I care about you, I want to see you the next mayor and the next governor and maybe the next president :)”
Prosecutors say Williams earned the $7,000 for helping Ali with airport customs.
“Give me the information of the Homeland Security folks that were running the investigation so I can send a letter,” Williams allegedly wrote in a subsequent text. “I want there to be a letter in your file from the D.A. of Philadelphia.”
It was not clear what the investigation he mentioned was about.
Williams is also charged with helping a second businessman identified as Michael Weiss get a special advisory position with the D.A.’s office, a liquor license, and a copy of an official police report for a car accident. He did all this, prosecutors say, in exchange for about $9,000 worth of plane tickets, a used $4,160 Jaguar XK8, and $900 in cash.
Prosecutors say that just a few months after Williams arranged for Weiss’s advisory appointment, he sent a series of texts asking for favors and trips, alluding to money problems.
“Dude….I never want to feel like a drag on your wallet…but we are ALWAYS ready for an adventure,” he allegedly wrote.
Williams did not list any of the enumerated gifts on disclosure forms until well after he knew he was the target of a federal investigation. He paid a $62,000 fine in January for failing to report more than $175,000 in gifts during his time in office; that included $45,000 in home repairs and Eagles sideline tickets that were not included in the indictment.
In all, prosecutors say Williams, who earned $170,000 a year as district attorney, sold his influence to the two businessmen for $54,465.48.
He pleaded not guilty Wednesday.