On Philly DA Seth Williams, and friends with benefits

I’ve made some bad choices in my life: the two-door Studebaker with racing stripes, buying stock thinking Betamax was a sure thing, betting on the Eagles in the Super Bowl (both times). Worse than all that, I chose the wrong friends.

I know I’ve chosen wrong after reading testimony in the trial of DA Seth Williams. His generous BFFs got mine beat.

Two testified, and their friendship with Williams feels like the relationship you have with your ATM. Except you have to fill the ATM yourself.

Remember in 2014 when Williams took aim at six elected Democratic officials after then-Attorney General Kathleen Kane declined to do so?

He prosecuted them for corruption, bribery, and accepting gifts.

And to what has he pleaded guilty?

See, irony isn’t dead.

But it’s only a crime if it was a quid pro quo, which is Latin for: You scratch my back, I’ll purr like a kitty and then do something for you.

Defense attorney Thomas F. Burke told jurors that if Williams was a “friend” and did nothing in return for the $160,000 in gifts showered on him, there’s no quid pro quo and therefore no crime. That was the crease that the defense seemed to be trying to widen into an acquittal before Williams threw in the towel on Thursday and pleaded guilty.

Last year the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell for essentially the same thing to which Williams pleaded guilty.

So let’s meet BFF No. 1, Mohammad N. Ali, who is a tribute to American immigrants.

A native of Jordan, Ali arrived here, opened a business, and quickly became a millionaire selling prepaid cellphone cards and then energy drinks.

The soft-spoken entrepreneur lives in Feasterville, drives a Bentley, is married with children (three) to a Belarusian woman, and in a deal with prosecutors pleaded guilty last month to bribery and tax evasion. No one’s perfect.

“Did I need things” from Williams, Ali asked on the stand. “Yes, but that’s not ‘using.’ I’m sure he expected things from me, too.”

Williams did, and was not disappointed, according to the 23-charge indictment. There was $9,000 in cash, and that embarrassing $3,200 chocolate brown sofa. In a creepy text message to Ali, Williams referred to himself as a “thankful beggar.” He just couldn’t make ends meet on his $175,000 salary.

When Ali needed some help with his wife’s citizenship papers, he turned to Williams. When he was subject to secondary screening at the airport, he turned to Williams. When a friend had a problem with a drug case, he turned to Williams.

In each case, Williams showed he was not the best friend money could buy. He did not get it done. That should have worked in his favor.

No quid pro quo.

Ali and Williams double-dated and vacationed together at a swanky resort in the Dominican Republic. (Ali paid.)

That reminded me of a vacation I took to Jamaica with my best friend Jim (last name withheld for his protection). We rented a hillside villa overlooking Montego Bay. We had a swimming pool, a gardener, a housekeeper, and a car.

He paid half and I paid half, and now I see how stupid I was to not have him pay for the whole thing. That’s what friends do, right? Right?

That brings us to BFF No. 2: Michael Weiss.

He’s an owner of Woody’s, the sprawling bar in the Gayborhood. He’s a son of former local comic Barney Weiss, who opened the Going Bananas comedy club decades ago and showed his son how it’s done.

Success put Weiss in a position to pay for Williams’ airfare for vacations in Key West, San Diego, and Las Vegas. Weiss gave his old Jaguar to Williams for his girlfriend, and lent him $1,300, which was not returned.

My friend Jim has a philosophy about that: “If you need money, I’ll give it to you. I don’t lend to friends. It only leads to bad feelings.” And testimony, I might add.

I took Jim’s advice to heart: I only lend money to people I don’t like, figuring they’ll avoid me after they get the money.

It doesn’t appear, however, that Williams avoided Weiss.

We have a lesson here about friendship: If it is bought, it’s not the real deal.

Read a recap of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams’ trial with our day-by-day updates and learn more with our explainer on everything you need to know about the case.