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Philadelphia DA indicted on federal corruption charges

PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia’s top prosecutor was charged Tuesday with taking more than $160,000 in luxury gifts, Caribbean trips and cash, often in exchange for official favors that included help with a court case, according to a bribery and extortion indictment unsealed Tuesday.

The indictment caps a nearly two-year investigation into Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams’ financial affairs. Williams, a Democrat and career prosecutor who earns $175,000 in the top job, has said he ran into financial trouble after a divorce and while paying private school tuition for his daughters. 

The indictment described gifts that included stays he took with his then-girlfriend in a presidential suite of a Punta Cana resort; a custom $3,400 sofa; and a used Jaguar convertible, with insurance coverage to match. 

In exchange, authorities said, he offered to help a friend’s friend seek a reduced jail sentence in a criminal case run by his office, and took $7,000 for helping a business owner friend meet with an airport police official in an attempt to avoid enhanced screening when returning to the U.S. from foreign trips.

Williams also spent $10,000 from a joint account he shared with a relative meant for the relative’s nursing home costs, the indictment said.

Williams was spending Tuesday huddled with family, a spokesman said, and was expected to surrender and be arraigned on the charges Wednesday. Defense lawyer Michael Diamondstein said they would vigorously defend the charges.

Investigators began looking into Williams’ personal and political finances in August 2015, finding a series of ethics violations, including failure to disclose $160,500 in gifts and income. That amount included home repairs worth $45,000, CBS Philadelphia reports.

In January, the Philadelphia Board of Ethics imposed its largest fine ever, $62,000, on Williams for a number of violations, including failing to disclose gifts and sources of income and accepting gifts from prohibited sources.

The ethics board said Williams has through 2022 to pay off the penalty, owing $10,000 annually starting in 2018. The deal also includes what’s called a “re-opener agreement.” The ethics board told CBS Philadelphia it can amend the deal should it learn of additional violations.

Williams himself triggered the investigation last summer, when he amended his financial statements for 2010 through 2015, disclosing $160,000 in previously unreported gifts and income.

A spokesman at the time said they were from close family and friends. The gifts included a $45,000 roof on his Overbrook home, plane trips, vacations, suits and watches.

The board found 10 more gifts and payments Williams still had not disclosed.

In addition, the Board found 20 gifts from prohibited sources, “individuals who had a financial interest that the District Attorney was able to substantially affect through official action. They included criminal defense attorneys who were handling cases prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office, as well as subordinate employees and contractors of the District Attorney’s Office.”

In addition to the record fine, Williams will pay the city $2,840, the value of the five largest of the prohibited gifts.

Williams announced last month he would not seek re-election for a third term.

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