Former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, once the most powerful law enforcement officer in the city, has been sentenced to five years in federal prison for his role in a corruption scandal that marked his downfall.
Williams, who was indicted for taking bribes, stealing money meant for his mother’s nursing home care, and using campaign funds to bankroll a lavish lifestyle, entered the courtroom in handcuffs and a tan prison uniform, illustrating just how far he had fallen.
Along with the five-year prison term, Williams was sentenced to three years’ supervised release and was ordered to pay $58,000 in restitution.
During his sentencing Tuesday afternoon, Williams was the target of the ire of U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Diamond made clear his disgust for Williams’ actions when he denied his bail request after Williams’ June 29 guilty plea and sent him straight to jail to await sentencing four months later.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Diamond said he found it particularly ironic that Williams requested house arrest until his sentence begins so that he could visit with the ailing 85-year-old mother he stole from. Williams pleaded guilty to stealing $23,000 meant for her nursing home costs.
“The English language doesn’t have a word to capture the outrageousness of that request,” Diamond told Williams’ lawyer, Thomas Burke.
Williams “dumped her like a sack of potatoes” in the nursing home, Diamond added, expecting her care to be paid for by itself so he could use her money to live like “a high roller.”
Earlier in the hearing, in an unusual move, Burke read a statement prepared by the former DA to the court as a teary-eyed Williams looked on. In it, Williams apologized to his friends and family, the city of Philadelphia, and the District Attorney’s Office.
“I have made mistakes,” Burke read from Williams’ statement. “Mistakes of character and judgment.”
“I am truly sorry … for failing the people of Philadelphia,” the statement continued.
Burke also requested that the judge take into consideration Williams’ dedication to his family and church, his service as a JAG officer in the U.S. Army, and his service as the city’s top prosecutor when imposing the sentence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer responded that no one claimed that Williams wasn’t a devoted father or committed to his church. But he was paid for his time as district attorney and, during most of his tenure, was on the take, Zauzmer added.
“He is a criminal and he was a criminal for a long period of time,” Zauzmer said.
Diamond, staring directly at Williams, also continued to bear down.
“You sold yourself to the parasites you surrounded yourself with,” the judge said.
Since late June, Williams has been housed in isolation at the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center. Because of his status as the former district attorney of the city, general population was considered unsafe for Williams.
Williams’ guilty plea came as part of a deal in which prosecutors agreed to dismiss 28 of the 29 charges against him in exchange for admitting to one count—that he took bribes, including a trip to a luxury resort in Punta Cana, from Feasterville businessman Mohammad N. Ali. In return, Williams helped Ali bypass airport security.
During trial over the summer, prosecutors portrayed Williams to the jury as a cash-strapped, corrupt politician willing to sell his power and influence for anything he could get his hands on. They showed the jury volumes of evidence including incriminating text messages between Williams and his associates; reams of financial documents detailing his inability to manage money; and perhaps most damaging, testimony from Ali, who told jurors that he cozied up to Williams in 2010 so he could gain a powerful friend.
Despite pleading guilty to a single charge, Williams still admitted to committing all the crimes he was accused of, including taking bribes from Michael Weiss, owner of Philadelphia gay bar Woody’s, in exchange for official favors, stealing his mother’s nursing home money, misspending campaign money on expensive dinners and parties, and taking government vehicles for personal use.
After his resignation, guilty plea and incarceration, Williams suffered another blow Oct. 19 in the form of his disbarment by the state Supreme Court, retroactive to April 13, when his law license was suspended.
Williams was Philadelphia’s first black district attorney, elected in 2009 and re-elected in 2013. He served as the city’s inspector general from 2005 to 2008.
Burke noted at Tuesday’s hearing that Williams, 50, would have to start his life again from scratch when he’s released and that he is virtually penniless. Williams urged Diamond to let him out on bail in June, claiming that he was not a flight risk because he had less than $200 to his name and a collection of old bicycles as his only means of transportation.