opinion

Should former Philly DA Seth Williams be freed to go see his mother? | Jenice Armstrong

Jenice Armstrong, STAFF COLUMNIST

Updated: Monday, October 23, 2017, 6:55 PM

Former Philly District Attorney Seth Williams leaving federal court earlier this year.

Former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams used his mother while he was a free man. Now, he’s trying to use her to get out of prison.

I don’t have much sympathy for Williams, who betrayed the public trust and sold out his office to enrich himself. The city’s first black district attorney shamed us all and deserves every single day in prison he gets. The bum even bilked his own mother. When family friends donated $10,000 to help with her bills, Williams absconded with that money, too. And now he wants to be released from prison so he can go see her? Please.

Williams, who unexpectedly pleaded guilty in June in a federal bribery case, is expected to be sentenced Tuesday to up to five years. But before he is moved to a new prison, he wants another taste of freedom.

His attorney last week filed a memorandum asking that he be released with an electronic monitor, pending his assignment to the facility where he will serve out his sentence. Williams reportedly wants to see his ailing mother for what may be the last time and put his affairs in order.

“It’s really a humanitarian request,” Thomas Burke, Williams’ lawyer, told me on Monday.

Since being taken into custody immediately after his guilty plea, Williams has been kept in solitary confinement in a special housing unit at the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center, allowed out for only an hour each day.

He most likely will be assigned to a low-security prison camp, but because he was the city’s top law enforcement officer, it will be some distance away, making it more challenging for visitors. How would his mother see him then?

“She’s still in a nursing home. She’s 85 years old. She has good days and bad days. She’s not mobile. She has to be transported with a wheelchair, and she has to get rides everywhere, and she has to be cared for,” Burke said.

He pointed out that if Williams is assigned to a prison in Virginia, for example, it would make it difficult for her to travel to see him.

“You’re going to have this lady travel two days? … That’s like a Bataan Death March,” he said. “I think it’s physically dangerous.”

He also raised the issue of finances.

“The nursing home is not going to provide that level of transportation,” Burke said. “That’s why I’m hoping the judge has a little compassion … given mom’s situation.”

I feel for his ailing mother, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease. What did she do besides love Williams, the son she and her late husband adopted as a toddler?

Imelda Williams hasn’t been able to see her only child since who knows when. Judging from court testimony, it doesn’t look as if Williams had been spending much time with her. Administrators had a time catching up to him to get him to pay his mother’s bills.

If he’s released for a few weeks, how much time would he actually spend with her? Excuse me if I sound cynical, but he was his family’s great hope and promise, and he threw it all away for some free trips to the Dominican Republic, a used Jaguar, and a chocolate-colored couch, among other items.

Williams pleaded guilty to a single violation of the Travel Act, stemming from bribes he accepted from a wealthy donor to his campaign. Twenty-eight other charges were dropped, but Williams admitted committing those offenses as well. He has since been disbarred.

I’m sure Imelda loves her son no matter what. If the judge has mercy and agrees to let Williams out, this could be her last chance to see him. I can’t help but feel for her.

But then I start thinking about Williams and how he hoodwinked us all, and I get mad all over again.

Judge Paul S. Diamond sent a strong message when he locked Williams up immediately. Letting him out now to go see his mom would diminish it.

Jenice Armstrong, STAFF COLUMNIST

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