Philly DA Seth Williams' trial: Day-by-day updates

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams departs after his May 11 arraignment on additional charges in his bribery and extortion case at the at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams abandoned his bid for a third term in office earlier this year. But on June 19, he began the most important campaign of his life: his defense against federal corruption charges that threaten to send him to prison for up to 20 years.  On Thursday, midway through his trial, Williams accepted a plea deal and was sent to jail to await sentencing.

Here’s a recap of the latest developments:

Day 8, June 29: In a surprise move, Seth Williams pleaded guilty to one count in a mid-trial plea deal. The district attorney will resign as the city’s top prosecutor under the terms of the agreement. He pleaded guilty to one count related to accepting a bribe from Bucks County businessman Mohammad Ali. The 28 remaining counts against Williams were dismissed, but he “admits that he committed all of the conduct in those 29 counts,”  Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer said. (READ MORE: Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams pleads guilty in his federal corruption trial | What’s next for Philly’s District Attorney’s Office?)

Defense lawyers in Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams’ trial Wednesday showed jurors the Fall-Winter 2015 cover of The Sporting Club at the Bellevue members’ magazine, as prosecutors presented evidence that Williams’ campaign donations paid for his membership there.

Day 7, June 28: Williams’ lawyer sought to justify the thousands of dollars of campaign cash the Philadelphia district attorney paid for membership dues and spa services at a pricey Center City gym by suggesting that “trimming down” and “getting in shape” made him more electable. But that debate over the potential of portly politicians was hardly the most unusual thing to happen as prosecutors shifted focus to another key aspect in their case — Williams’ spending of political donations at exclusive clubs across the city. The government alleged it was a crime but the defense argued that places like the Sporting Club at the Bellevue and the tony Union League gave the district opportunities to network with the city’s power brokers. Witnesses included the Sporting Club’s general manager, the former director of Williams’ campaign fund, and the top enforcement lawyer for the city’s Board of Ethics. (READ MORE: Philly DA’s defense of gym dues: ‘Trimming down’ helped make him electable)

Day 6, June 27: Jurors in Seth Williams’ bribery and corruption trial were offered two lenses through which to view the cash-strapped district attorney and his relationship to one of the wealthy businessmen who prosecutors say bankrolled his luxurious life. Government questioning of Michael Weiss — co-owner of the iconic Center City gay bar Woody’s — painted Williams as a shameless moocher whose requests for help paying for family vacations and utility bills became so frequent at one point that Weiss considered cutting him off. But as soon as the defense began its examination, Weiss spoke of Williams as one of his closest friends. The day’s testimony also included appearances from the administrator of the nursing home where Williams’ mother lived, Williams’ mechanic and a lawyer in Williams’ office who told jurors that despite whatever promises the district attorney may have made to another benefactor, he never asked about a criminal case in which he had promised to intervene. (READ MORE: Woody’s owner: ‘I don’t believe I bribed anyone’)

Michael Weiss (left) and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, outside the Gayborhood landmark Weiss owns, Woody’s Bar at the start of the city’s 2015 Gay Pride day.

Day 5, June 26: Woody’s owner Michael Weiss paid for Seth Williams’ airfare for vacations in Key West, Fla., San Diego and Las Vegas. He once lent him $1,300. And when the Philadelphia district attorney’s girlfriend needed a car, Weiss gave her his old Jaguar convertible. But unlike the first of the district attorney’s patrons to take the witness stand – Bucks County businessman Mohammad N. Ali, who testified last week that he cozied up to Williams in anticipation of help he might one day need – Weiss’ reluctance to appear in court was palpable. When asked by prosecutors whether his generosity was intended to extract legal help from the district attorney, Weiss conceded: “In part.” (READ MORE: Asked whether he bribed Williams, owner of iconic gay bar answers with a shrug)

Earlier in the day, Deputy Commissioner Joseph Sullivan, the Philadelphia Police Department’s top homeland security official, testified that he felt uncomfortable when Williams requested that they meet for a Union League lunch with Ali, someone federal law enforcement agents had warned them both to avoid. (READ MORE: Police official: Union League lunch with Williams, benefactor “didn’t feel right”)

Day 4, June 23: In a day of pointed cross-examination from the defense, Bucks County businessman Mohammad N. Ali wrestled with walking a line between describing his relationship with Seth Williams as a true friendship and one in which he showered the district attorney with gifts in hopes of soliciting legal favors. Through his questioning, defense lawyer Thomas R. Burke tried to paint Ali  as a craven opportunist who used Williams for help with his legal woes and was using him once again as he testified — to avoid a significant prison term stemming from his own conviction last month for bribery and tax evasion. Also testifying were the county detective in charge of the District Attorney’s Office’s drug intervention unit, who said Williams appropriated government vehicles for personal use, and the human resources manager for the office, who discussed Williams’ ethics forms, on which he was required to report the gifts he received from Ali and others. (READ MORE: Line between favors, friendship blurs at Philly DA Seth Williams’ trial)

Mohammad N. Ali arrives at the federal courthouse. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)

Day 3, June 22: A Bucks County businessman at the center of the case testified Thursday that he showered the city’s top prosecutor with pricey gifts, all-expenses-paid travel, and dinner at exclusive restaurants because he “wanted to get close to the DA.” And though the relationship outlined by Mohammad N. Ali during four hours on the witness stand sounded at times like a genuine friendship built over years of double dates and a 2012 couples’ trip to a swanky Dominican resort, when asked directly by prosecutors what he got out of cozying up to the district attorney, Ali answered in purely transactional terms. “It’s good to know someone in power,” he told jurors. “If you ever need anything, it’s good to have someone make a phone call.” (READ MORE: Benefactor testifies ‘it’s good to know someone in power’ at Philly DA Seth Williams’ trial)

Day 2, June 21: Prosecutors cut to the heart of one of the most shocking allegations against the cash-strapped district attorney – that Williams diverted his portions of his mother’s savings, pension payments, and Social Security income to cover his mounting debts even as the nursing home where she was living was clamoring for any money to cover the costs of her care. A Justice Department auditor testified about her exhaustive study the bank account of Williams’ mother, Imelda, and suggested that the district attorney was routinely spending her money on his mortgage payments, utility bills and shopping trips to Juicy Couture. Williams’ lawyer maintains that he was unaware of his financial obligation to his mother’s nursing home. Other witnesses included staff at the St. Francis Country House geriatric facility; Patricia Tobin, the assistant general manager at the tony Union League and Sylvia Randolph, wife of an old family friend who gave Williams a $10,000 check to pay for his mother’s care which was later spent on the district attorney’s mortgage and other bills. (READ MORE: At Williams’ trial, prosecutors zero in on alleged theft from his mother)

Day 1, June 20: In opening statements, prosecution and defense lawyers gave the jury starkly different accounts of Philadelphia’s top law enforcement official. Assistant U.S. Attorney Vineet Gauri portrayed Williams, 50, almost as a man so driven by a lifestyle exceeding his paycheck that he willingly solicited and accepted bribes and defrauded his election committee, the federal and city governments, and his mother to maintain it. Williams’ lawyer, Thomas Burke, conceded that his client had accepted gifts and trips, used his campaign committee’s money for memberships to a gym and a tony club, and frequently relied on a fleet of government vehicles, but he maintained that none of it was illegal. Later, Kathleen DeFriece, director of accounts receivable for a nursing home run by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the government’s first witness, testified about what she described as a frustrating, 10-month campaign to get Seth Williams to respond to the nursing home’s need to have his mother’s pension and Social Security benefits deposited directly with the geriatric facility to cover her care, room, and board. Prosecutors contend Williams misspent thousands intended to pay for his mother’s care to cover the cost of his mortgage and other bills. (READ MORE: Nursing home official: DA Seth Williams misused funds meant for his mother’s care)

Jury selection, June 19: U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond, prosecutors and defense lawyers culled a panel of 137 prospects from nine Southeastern Pennsylvania counties to create a main jury panel of 10 women and two men, and four alternates, all women, for a trial predicted to last from three to four weeks at the federal courthouse at Sixth and Market Streets. Just two of the main jurors are African American. But the panel — with jurors from as far away as Lancaster, Lehigh, and Northampton Counties — brings diverse life experiences to the mix. One woman said she worked as a chocolate taster at the Hershey plant. Another, a former retail jeweler, described once chasing down and beating a robber before setting him free. The panel includes a juvenile probation officer, a businessman from Chester County and a Philadelphia cardiac nurse. (READ MORE: Jury selected, Philly DA Seth Williams’ federal corruption trial opens Tuesday)

The set-up: Williams’ federal trial caps off what has been a tough year for the 50-year-old Williams. He dropped his candidacy for a third term. His law license has been suspended by agreement with the state Supreme Court, and he has ceded daily operation of the city prosecutor’s office to his first assistant, Kathleen Martin. His Overbrook home is on the market. (READ MORE: His freedom at stake, DA Seth Williams’ federal corruption trial starts Monday)

The indictment, March 21: Federal prosecutors unveiled a sweeping bribery, extortion and honest services fraud indictment against Williams accusing the city’s cash-strapped top prosecutor of repeatedly selling his influence and offering to intervene in a case on behalf of one wealthy benefactor. In exchange, they said, Williams accepted luxury trips to foreign locales, a used Jaguar convertible, and other gifts including a $205 Louis Vuitton necktie and a Burberry watch. When that was not enough to cover the costs of his lush life, Williams allegedly resorted to stealing from his own mother, draining more than $20,000 of Social Security and pension income intended to pay for her nursing home to cover his mortgage and electricity bills. (READ MORE: D.A. Seth Williams indicted on corruption, bribery-related charges)

Keep up with developments in Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams’ case with our day-by-day recaps and our explainer on everything you need to know about the case.

Continue Reading