PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams was indicted today on additional fraud charges stemming from his alleged use of political action committee (PAC) funds and official government vehicles for his personal benefit, Acting New Jersey U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick announced.
Williams, 50, of Philadelphia, is now charged in a superseding indictment with 11 counts of travel and use of interstate facilities to promote and facilitate bribery contrary to Pennsylvania law (the “Travel Act counts”), two counts of Hobbs Act extortion under color of official right, two counts of honest services wire fraud, 12 counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
Williams was originally charged in a 23-count indictment on March 21, 2017. The superseding indictment now contains 29 counts, including Counts 22 to 29 regarding Williams’ use of PAC funds and official vehicles.
The Fraud Involving PAC Funds Friends of Seth Williams, a/k/a “The Committee to Elect Seth Williams,” was a political action committee that accepted contributions from individuals to support Williams’ campaigns for public office. Under applicable law, the PAC funds could only be used in relation to political campaigns.
According to the superseding indictment, from August 2010 through August 2016, Williams allegedly defrauded the PAC by using its funds for personal expenditures, which he concealed by providing false or incomplete reports to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and to the City of Philadelphia.
For instance, between August 2010 and September 2010, the PAC disbursed two checks to a political consultant totaling approximately $4,136.59. The memo line on these checks falsely stated, “Political Consulting.” Within days of the political consultant receiving the PAC checks, Williams obtained checks from the political consultant’s account and deposited them into his own bank account. In total, Williams received approximately $4,036.59 of the approximately $4,136.59 that the political consultant received from the PAC between August 2010 and September 2010. Williams used these funds for personal expenses.
In addition, from October 2011 through April 2015, Williams incurred expenses at a social club for his personal benefit, including dinner parties, lodging, and family events, none of which were incurred in connection with any election. Williams used the PAC’s debit card to pay for these expenses, including charges of $677.98 for a New Year’s Eve celebration at the social club on Dec. 31, 2013 for Williams and his girlfriend; $195.50 for a facial and massage in January 2014; $777.19 for an April 10, 2014 birthday dinner that Williams held for his girlfriend; $491.50 for a massage, facial, gift card, and fitness classes in January 2015; approximately $2,674.41 for an April 10, 2015 birthday dinner that Williams held for his girlfriend; and approximately $211.50 for massages in May 2015.
From January 2013 through May 2015, Williams incurred expenses at a health club for his own personal benefit, including massages, facials, and clothing, none of which were incurred in connection with any election. Williams also used the PAC’s debit card to pay for these expenses, including charges for massages of $222.50 in January 2013, $209 in July 2013, $251.50 in September 2013, and $90 in November 2013.
The Fraud Involving Official Government Vehicles Williams also allegedly 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.
Some of those vehicles were obtained through grants provided by the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. The purpose of the HIDTA program was to reduce illegal drug trafficking and drug production in the United States by, among other things, facilitating cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The HIDTA program provided resources and funding to enhance and promote regional drug control strategies within defined geographic areas. Each geographic area designated as a HIDTA was governed by an Executive Board comprised of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
Williams was a member of the Executive Board for the HIDTA of Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey. The District Attorney’s Office (DAO) assigned HIDTA vehicles to detectives in its Dangerous Drug Offender Unit (DDOU), which often conducted narcotics investigations with federal and state HIDTA partners. Vehicles owned or leased by these agencies could not be used for personal purposes.
According to the superseding indictment, Williams repeatedly used city and HIDTA vehicles for his personal use during non-working hours, including weeknights and weekends. Williams directed his security detail to leave a city or HIDTA vehicle at his home every weeknight, so that he would have access to it during all non-working hours. Williams used the vehicles to transport himself, family members, friends and other non-employees on non-DAO business, including personal trips outside of Philadelphia.
During the scheme, Williams had full-time access to city or HIDTA vehicles for nearly all of his personal vehicular needs and personally incurred almost no expenses related to the use of a personal vehicle for years, including costs of purchasing, leasing, or renting a vehicle, or paying for insurance, fuel, and maintenance.
In addition, Williams’ acquisition and use of the HIDTA vehicles, including a Nissan Armada SUV and two Chevrolet Tahoe SUVs, reduced the number of vehicles available to members of the DAO’s DDOU for undercover operations, surveillance, and other aspects of narcotics investigations.
Bribes Involving Business Owners and Fraud on a Nursing Home and Family Friends
Williams remains charged with the same three schemes that were detailed in the March 21, 2017 indictment:
• From July 2010 through May 2015, Williams allegedly had an arrangement with an individual identified in the superseding 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 Business Owner #1.
• From March 2012 through July 2015, Williams allegedly had an arrangement with an individual 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 Business Owner #2.
• From February 2012 through November 2013, Williams allegedly diverted a relative’s pension and Social Security payments to pay for his own personal expenses instead of applying them to the relative’s nursing home costs. In addition, after accepting $10,000 from friends of his relative intended to cover expenses for the relative’s nursing home care, Williams spent the money on his personal expenses instead.
The 29-count superseding indictment presents some alterations to the original counts, without changing the substance of the above allegations. Williams was arraigned on March 22, 2017, and entered a plea of not guilty. The trial is presently set for May 31, 2017.
Each of the Travel Act counts is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison. The Hobbs Act extortion under color of official right and the wire and mail fraud charges are each punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison. Each count carries a potential fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of a total of approximately $64,878.22, representing the sum of approximately $33,765.52 worth of bribe proceeds and approximately $31,112.70 worth of fraud proceeds.
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 Gregory Floyd, 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 in Newark and Chief of Appeals Robert A. Zauzmer and Assistant U.S. Attorney Vineet Gauri of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia.
The charges and allegations contained in the superseding indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Defense counsel: Thomas F. Burke Esq., Philadelphia.