Irate judge gives ex-Philly DA Seth Williams 5-year sentence in bribery, corruption case

Jeremy Roebuck, Staff Writer

Updated: Tuesday, October 24, 2017, 7:44 PM

District Attorney Seth Williams was sentenced Tuesday in his federal bribery and corruption case. In this June 14 file photo, Williams arrives for a pretrial hearing at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia.

If the ethics fines, the personal scandals, the bribery trial, and his abrupt resignation in disgrace this summer were not enough, the public dressing down that Seth Williams received from the federal judge who sentenced him Tuesday to five years in prison surely cemented 2017 as the worst year of the former Philadelphia district attorney’s life.

Children's Crisis Treatment Masquerade Gala, District Attorney Seth Williams and Stacey Cummings Interior designer, Bellevue Hotel, June 7, 2013.
District Attorney Seth Williams speaking at the Memorial Day ceremony at the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial Day, May 31, 2010
Philadelphia DA Seth Williams and Stacey Cummings at the 23rd Annual "Stu Bykofsky Candidates' Comedy Night."
"Midnight Run for Peace" Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams addresses the bikers at the 1st Stop - 4800 Wayne Avenue - shooting area, Friday July 16, 2010.
Tariq El-Shabazz (left) lands a punch on Phila. District Attorney Seth Williams during a charity boxing event at Temple's Liacouras Center in Phila. on April 30, 2016.
Phila. District Attorney Seth Williams catches his breath in between rounds during a charity boxing event at Temple's Liacouras Center in Phila. on April 30, 2016.
Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams named Tariq El-Shabazz, right, to be the Philadelphia District Attorney�s Office�s next Deputy for Investigations and next First Assistant District Attorney at August 11, 2016 press conference.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams speaks to reporters at District Attorneys offices.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams speaks to reporters at District Attorneys offices. MATT ROURKE / AP
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams departs after making an announcement at a news conference on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017 that he will not run for a third term.
Supporters of District Attorney candidate Seth Williams gather at Philadelphia City Hall to show their support on Thursday, April 2, 2009.
Seth Williams a former assistant district attorney plans to run for the office of Philadelphia District Attorney. Photo taken on Tuesday, January 11, 2005 outside the criminal justice center. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
District Attorney Lynne Abraham shakes hands with challenger Seth Williams before their debate.
Seth Williams and Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, prepare for a debate, Saturday, May 7, 2005, at WPVI studios in Philadelphia.
District Attorney Seth Williams makes his victory speech with daughters Taylor and Hope (right) at his side in South Philadelphia, Tuesday, November 5, 2013.
District Attorney Seth Williams waves on his way into the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, PA on June 22, 2017 during his corruption trial.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, right, leaves federal court on Monday, June 26, 2017.
DA Seth Williams arrives at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, PA on June 27, 201 on the sixth day of his corruption trial.
Seth Williams leaves the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, PA on June 21, 2017.
DNPSETH28 Day 6 of DA Seth Williams' trial. Woody's owner Michael Weiss is expected to return to the stand for cross-examination. Photos (1) Comments: Maialetti assigned, will try again to get Weiss
Feasterville businessman Mohammad N. Ali (right) leaves Federal Court in Philadelphia with his attorney Mark Cedrone, after pleading guilty to bribery and tax evasion charges in connection to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, who himself has been charged with additional fraud charges May 11, 2017.
Kathleen Martin, right, First Assistant District Attorney for the District Attorney's office walks away from the podium after reading a statement and answering the media�s questions about the future of the DA�s office. In light of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams pleading guilty in federal court.
Asa Khalif from Black Lives Matters, center, blocks traffic outside the District Attorneys office, leading a small protest calling for Seth Williams to step down, Monday, March 27, 2017, in Philadelphia.
Photo Gallery: Former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams throughout the years

U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond held little back as he lit into the city’s fallen top prosecutor, giving him the harshest punishment allowable by law, and calling him a “criminal” who “fed his face at the trough” of public money.

Williams humiliated his employees, the judge continued, and dumped his own mother “like a sack of potatoes” by stealing money set aside to cover her nursing home care to project a “high-roller” image to the “parasites [with whom he] surrounded” himself.

And when it came to Williams’ request Tuesday to be temporarily released from custody before the start of his prison term to see his dying mother one last time, Diamond simply scoffed.

“The English language doesn’t have the words to capture the outrageousness of that request,” the judge said, eliciting gasps from the courtroom gallery. “The defendant stole from his mother, and now he wants to visit her?”

With that final kiss-off, Williams – once hailed as a long-awaited reformer to the city’s criminal justice system – was hauled out of court in handcuffs, his shoulders slumped, his face the very picture of defeat.

Philly’s Political Hall of Shame Click here for a gallery of elected officials from Philadelphia who were involved in corruption cases, and were convicted or pleaded guilty or no contest.

Earlier in the hearing, Williams, too, had joined in the attempts to debase himself before the court, listing the litany of all he had lost as he expressed his remorse to the judge.

“Rather than holding myself to a higher standard, I squandered the trust placed in me,” he said in a statement read by his lawyer to the court. “I lost my job, reputation, pension, house, law license, and liberty.”

His lawyer, Thomas Burke, said Williams would be “virtually penniless” by the time he was released from prison.

But even those attempts drew Diamond’s ire. He upbraided the ex-prosecutor for not delivering the speech himself, saying Williams’ apologies lacked credibility and sounded like reworked campaign speeches.

“Almost from the time you took office, you sold yourself to the parasites you surrounded yourself with,” Diamond said. “You humiliated the men and women of the District Attorney’s Office.”

Tuesday’s hearing provided only the latest setback for Williams, whose public life in the last year has been marked by one embarrassing blow after another, most of them self-inflicted.

Earlier this year, his failure to report more than $175,000 in gifts from wealthy benefactors prompted the city’s Ethics Board to fine him $62,000, the largest penalty against a political officeholder in the body’s 11-year history. Williams dropped his bid for a third term soon after, apologizing to his staff for the shame he brought upon his office.

The federal bribery and corruption case that led to his sentencing Tuesday followed soon after. Prosecutors painted Williams as a crooked politician who took every opportunity to enrich himself through fraud, theft from his campaign fund, and bribes accepted from generous donors.

Two wealthy businessmen testified that they had showered Williams with gifts of cash, luxury goods, and all-expenses-paid travel to an upscale Dominican Republic resort and other vacation spots, hoping he would repay their generosity by using his office to remove various legal hurdles.

Williams’ decision two weeks into his trial to end a barrage of embarrassing evidence — such as text messages he sent to his benefactors describing himself as “merely a humble beggar” — by reversing course and pleading guilty only worsened his situation. Diamond decided to throw him in jail immediately to await his sentence, an unusual move in white-collar cases.

Burke, after Tuesday’s hearing, said he and Williams were not surprised by Diamond’s harsh rebuke and had girded themselves for the worst. He remained hopeful that his client soon would be assigned to a less restrictive environment to serve out his prison term.

Since his guilty plea, Williams has been confined to an 8-by-10 cell in the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center’s Special Housing Unit, a safety precaution because of his role as a former law enforcement official. There he has spent 23 hours a day, only allowed outside for an hour of exercise. Guards have permitted him one visitor a week and one 15-minute phone call a month, per the unit’s protocol.

“I am not here to pretend Seth is a perfect man,” he said. “But Seth is a good man — a family man, a man devoted to his community. Unfortunately, Seth is also a flawed man, and his flaws led him to make flawed decisions.”

The prosecutors who tried the case – Robert Zauzmer, Vineet Gauri, and Eric Moran – said Williams got what he deserved.

“The message is unmistakable,” Zauzmer said while leaving the courthouse Tuesday. “Federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents take this very seriously. We will always be here … and we will always address these crimes.”

Jeremy Roebuck, Staff Writer

Read full story: Irate judge gives ex-Philly DA Seth Williams 5-year sentence in bribery, corruption case

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