D.A. Williams belatedly reports $160,050 in gifts

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams reported receiving a free $45,000 roof repair on his home from a New Jersey builder, cash gifts of $1,500 and $10,000 from friends, and $20,800 in free airfare and lodging, among other windfalls.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams on Monday reported receiving $160,050 in gifts from 2010 to 2015, a financial windfall he previously omitted from mandatory annual statements of financial interests.

The gifts range from personal to professional.

Williams reported receiving a free $45,000 roof repair on his home from a New Jersey builder, cash gifts of $1,500 and $10,000 from friends, and $20,800 in free airfare and lodging for vacations to Key West, Las Vegas, Virginia, and the Dominican Republic.

Williams also received $10,000 in travel expenses for an Eisenhower Fellowship program in Australia and South Africa, $5,000 from the Ministry of Justice of Thailand to travel there to teach leadership classes, and free trips to several state and national prosecutorial forums.

Williams, who declined to comment on his financial reports, is paid a $175,572 annual salary. He issued a statement through his 2017 reelection campaign that cited "the need for greater transparency."

"I believe that it is very important to provide the citizens of Philadelphia with a greater foundation of trust in their elected officials," the statement said.

His attorney, Samuel C. Stretton, took a different view, calling the failure to previously report five years of gifts "a terrible mistake."

Stretton said Williams "wasn't paying attention" to his reporting requirements and thought some of the gifts did not need to be disclosed because they came from close friends.

"There's no good answer," said Stretton, who is seeking to negotiate civil financial penalties with the state Ethics Commission and the Philadelphia Board of Ethics. "The true answer is, he should have reported it. He failed to do so. And he accepts responsibility."

Stretton said he had never before seen an amendment of financial reports as extensive.

Penalties for failing to report gifts can be as high as $1,000 under city ethics rules. The state civil penalty is capped at $250 per year.

Stretton said the city penalties could be significant if each unreported gift was considered an individual violation.

The Inquirer reported in August 2015 that the FBI and the IRS, working with a federal grand jury, were examining Williams' personal and political finances.

Stretton said he does not represent Williams in any federal matter.

"Whether there is a federal investigation, I honestly don't know," he said. "But this would help him by filing these [amended reports] if there was."

Among the gifts Williams reported:

Roof repairs, windows, and insulation, valued at $45,000, from Mike Palmieri of Lynmar Builders in New Jersey.

Lodgings valued at $1,000 per visit for four years at a Key West, Fla., house owned by Philadelphia lawyer Richard Hoy.

Airfare of $1,000 to Key West for each of those visits, paid by Bill Weiss, owner of Woody's Bar in Center City. Weiss is also listed as giving Williams $1,500 in cash in 2015, paying $2,000 for a 2013 trip to Las Vegas, and paying $2,000 each for 2012 and 2014 trips to San Diego.

$2,930 in Phillies and 76ers tickets, $1,500 for two trips to Atlantic City, and $1,500 in Visa gift cards from Scott DiClaudio, a high school friend who was elected a Common Pleas Court judge in 2015 with Williams' support.

A $3,000 trip in 2012 to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, along with a $300 iPad and a $2,700 couch, all paid for by Mohammad N. Ali.

Two complimentary all-access sideline passes for the 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 Eagles seasons. Williams listed that the passes did not include seats and so had "no face value."

Stretton is an expert in judicial ethics who has represented Philadelphia judges in criminal and civil discipline proceedings. He has some experience with navigating Williams and his finances through messy times.

Williams was briefly removed from the 2009 Democratic primary election ballot for district attorney when a Common Pleas Court judge ruled in favor of an opponent, who challenged the veracity of Williams' statement of financial interests as a candidate.

Commonwealth Court reinstated Williams, who went on to win the primary and then general election.

Williams has repeatedly refused to comment on the federal probe, which has subpoenaed records from the political action committee he used for his campaigns.

That probe, sources familiar with it said, is trying to determine if he misspent political funds on personal expenses.

Williams disbanded his original PAC, Friends of Seth Williams, on the last day of 2015 and then created the Seth Williams Victory Party PAC.

He placed in charge a group of Harrisburg political professionals with long-standing ties to the state Republican Party.

Williams explained that action, which surprised some Philadelphia Democrats, this way in March: "I am working to professionalize my campaign organization. Allowing these professionals managing my campaign operation leaves me to focus all my time on doing the important work in the District Attorney's Office."

The Republicans called it quits on the new Williams PAC in June.

One of them, former state Republican Party executive director Mike Barley, explained the exit this way: "I think we stabilized the operation as far as compliance goes."

brennac@phillynews.com

215-854-5973 @ByChrisBrennan