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Press Release

Philadelphia District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams Pleads Guilty To Federal Bribery Charge

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

PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams today 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, Acting New Jersey U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick announced.

Williams, 50, of Philadelphia, 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. Williams was ordered detained until his sentencing, which is set for Oct. 24, 2017.

“The indictment alleged that, as District Attorney, Mr. Williams compromised himself and his elected office by using his office to help those willing to secretly pay him with valuable items like money, trips, and cars, as well as defrauding his political action committee and others,” Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick said. “Today, Mr. Williams admitted all of that conduct. He admitted that he misused the resources of the Philadelphia DA’s Office and his influence as an elected official for personal gain. He admitted defrauding his political action committee. He admitted defrauding his mother’s nursing home and her friends. Williams owed the public a duty to act according to the highest legal and ethical standards. Seth Williams breached that trust; he abused his power; and he will now be held accountable for his actions.”

“From his first day in office, Seth Williams sought to portray himself as a man of the people – a principled public servant and reformer, devoted to the cause of justice,” said Michael Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “Mr. Williams talked a good game. Unfortunately, ‘talk’ is all it was. In reality, he gamed the system. Feeling entitled to a certain lifestyle, he traded on his title of District Attorney in exchange for financial favors large and small. We’re gratified that Mr. Williams elected to change his plea, and admit to such brazen misconduct.”

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.

“The gifts Williams received represents the degree to which he was cheating the public," said IRS-CI Acting Special Agent in Charge Gregory Floyd. “No public official gets a free pass to ignore our laws. IRS CI will continue to ensure that our elected officials abide by their oath to faithfully discharge the duties of their office. It is unacceptable to accept benefits in exchange for performing official acts, but if you do IRS-Criminal Investigation will be there to seek justice on behalf of the citizens of Philadelphia."

“Homeland Security Investigations is pleased to have contributed to this investigation to hold accountable a public official who betrayed the trust of his community by engaging in such unscrupulous behavior,” Marlon V. Miller, special agent in charge of HSI Philadelphia, said. “The public places an enormous amount of trust in elected officers and they should be held accountable to a higher standard of conduct. HSI will continue to work jointly with our law enforcement partners to investigate those who exploit their official public positions for their personal benefit.”

The bribery charge to which Williams pleaded guilty is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. As part of the plea agreement, Williams must forfeit $64,878.22, representing the sum of $33,765.52 worth of bribe proceeds and $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.

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

Updated June 29, 2017

Public Corruption
Press Release Number: 17-213