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Press Release

Former Philadelphia District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams Sentenced To Five Years In Prison For Federal Bribery Charge

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey

PHILADELPHIA – Former Philadelphia District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams, who previously admitted that he accepted tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of concealed bribes in exchange for his agreement to perform official acts, defrauded a nursing home and family friends of money earmarked for a family member’s care, and used political action committee funds and official government vehicles for his personal benefit, was sentenced today to 60 months in prison, Acting New Jersey U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick announced.

Williams, 50, of Philadelphia, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond to Count One of a superseding indictment charging him with travel and use of interstate facilities to promote and facilitate bribery contrary to Pennsylvania law. Judge Diamond imposed the sentence today in Philadelphia federal court.

“Mr. Williams swore an oath that he would act according to the highest legal and ethical standards,” Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick said. “Yet, as Philadelphia’s chief law enforcement officer, he accepted lavish gifts and other bribes in return for official favors, and even defrauded his own political action committee and his mother’s nursing home to pay for his personal expenses. Today’s sentence is a fitting punishment for an elected official who put his financial interests above his constituents and the dedicated public servants of the District Attorney’s Office.”

"With today’s sentencing, Seth Williams has officially been brought to justice. But the damage he's done to the public trust is much harder to resolve," said Michael Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division. "Williams traded on his elected office to live larger than its six-figure salary would allow – and as a result, lost both. His corruption now claims several years of his freedom, as well."

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

From July 2010 through May 2015, Williams had an arrangement with Mohammad N. Ali (identified in the indictment as “Business Owner #1”) in which Williams, while serving as the Philadelphia District Attorney, accepted trips, money, and other things of value in exchange for performing and agreeing to perform official acts on behalf of Ali, including contacting a Philadelphia police official in order to pressure and advise the official to assist Ali with security screenings at the airport. Williams also agreed to assist with criminal charges brought by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office against Ali’s associate.

From March 2012 through July 2015, Williams had an arrangement with Michael Weiss (identified in the superseding indictment as “Business Owner #2”) in which Williams accepted airline tickets, money, an automobile, and other things of value in exchange for performing and agreeing to perform official acts on behalf of Weiss, including appointing him as Special Advisor to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office in November 2012 and providing an official letter to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in order to influence a then-pending hearing to revoke or suspend Weiss’ California liquor license. In July 2015, Williams also obtained a police accident report at Weiss’ request.

In addition, from February 2012 through November 2013, Williams diverted his mother’s pension and Social Security payments to pay for his own personal expenses instead of applying them to his mother’s nursing home costs, as was his obligation under agreements with the nursing home. After accepting $10,000 from his mother’s friends intended to cover expenses for her nursing home care, Williams spent that money on his personal expenses as well.

From August 2010 through August 2016, Williams also defrauded the “The Committee to Elect Seth Williams” by using its funds for personal expenditures, including parties, birthday dinners, massages, and fitness classes. He concealed this fraud by providing false or incomplete reports to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and to the City of Philadelphia.

Lastly, Williams engaged in a scheme to use official vehicles – which were provided by the City of Philadelphia and a federal narcotics law enforcement program – for his personal benefit. Williams used the vehicles to transport himself, family members, friends and other non-employees on non-district attorney business, including personal trips outside of Philadelphia.

“In his position as Philadelphia’s District Attorney, Williams abused the trust placed in him by the public and today’s sentencing sends a clear message that such action will not be tolerated,” said Acting IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Edward Wirth. "Today's sentencing is a direct result of the excellent partnership IRS-CI, our fellow law enforcement partners, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have in combating violations of federal law.”

“Homeland Security Investigations is pleased to have teamed with our law enforcement partners to hold accountable public officials who betray the trust of the community they are sworn to serve by engaging in criminal behavior,” said Marlon V. Miller, Special Agent in Charge of HSI Philadelphia. “Let Mr. Williams’ sentencing serve as a proof that HSI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and bring to justice public officials who feel they are above the law.”

In addition to the prison term, Judge Diamond sentenced Williams to three years of supervised release. Judge Diamond also ordered Williams to pay forfeiture of $33,009 and restitution of $58,422.83.

Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael Harpster in Philadelphia; special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, Philadelphia Office, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Edward Wirth, and special agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) Philadelphia, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Marlon V. Miller, with the investigation. He also thanked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Nick DiGiulio, for its participation in the investigation.

The U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania recused his office from the investigation involving the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, and the matter was assigned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey. Two prosecutors from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania office were assigned to the case, subject to the supervision of prosecutors in the New Jersey office.The government is represented by Deputy Chief Eric W. Moran of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division and Chief of Appeals Robert A. Zauzmer and Assistant U.S. Attorney Vineet Gauri of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia.

Defense counsel: Thomas F. Burke Esq., Philadelphia.

Updated October 24, 2017

Public Corruption
Press Release Number: 17-401