Seth Williams' Eagles passes part of a team policy for 'public officials'

SethWilliams@Eagles2015
District Attorney Seth Williams along the sidelines at the Redskins-Eagles game at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 26, 2015. All-access passes, such as the one Williams receives, have been provided to "public officials" since Lincoln Financial Field opened in 2003, among them the fire chief, police chief, mayor, and district attorney, an Eagles spokesman says.

It was the one present that had no price.

Among all of the $160,050 in gifts that District Attorney Seth Williams has reported receiving since 2010 - the visits to upscale horse ranches, flights to Key West, a new roof - just one item was judged to have "no face value."

That was a pair of all-access sideline passes to five years of Eagles games at Lincoln Financial Field. The passes had no face value, Williams stated, because they didn't come with seats. Eagles representatives say the same.

Still, watching an Eagles game from the sidelines is an experience most fans can only dream of - some of the best non-seats in the house.

A spin through Eagles message boards reveals ordinary fans wondering how to get their hands on a pair of pregame sideline passes. During games, a premium season-ticket option called the "Touchdown Club" gives ticket holders on-field access as part of their $800-per-seat packages. Local ticket brokers don't sell sideline passes at all - they are, after all, not technically seats.

"I guess they're just given to the higher-end people," a broker at the William Penn ticket agency said, asked how one might snag a pass.

Local government watchdogs say that, as difficult as it might be to assign a dollar value to the passes, they're far from worthless - and accepting them could present a conflict for law enforcement officials who find themselves prosecuting athletes.

"However you calculate it, these sideline passes do have value, because people want them, and the demand would far exceed the supply" if they were put on sale, said David Thornburgh, president of the Committee of 70.

The passes allow Williams and a member of his security detail to stand on the field during games, said his campaign spokesman, Mustafa Rashed, who added that since the passes "can't be given away," they don't have a face value.

Williams reported them on his disclosure forms anyway, Rashed said, because "we went through everything - anything that was given to [Williams]" in his role as district attorney.

The Eagles say they hand out about 1,000 pregame sideline passes for every home game - to anyone from season ticket owners to VIPs to, at times, average fans lucky enough to cross paths with an Eagles employee looking to dole out a pass.

But that's only to watch the players warm up before the game.

All-access passes, such as the one Williams receives, have been provided to "public officials" since Lincoln Financial Field opened in 2003, among them the fire chief, police chief, mayor, and district attorney, a team spokesman said.

The Eagles' policies differs from some of their NFL rivals. A representative from the Dallas Cowboys said Thursday the team doesn't allow fans on the sidelines at all during games, because they like to keep the area "uncluttered."

The Washington Redskins do not allow fans on the sidelines during games either. The New York Giants said they do not give out sideline passes to public officials.

Neither police commissioner Richard Ross nor Charles H. Ramsey before him declared the passes or any other gifts according to city and state disclosure forms, based on a review of their public filings back to 2013. The same goes for former fire commissioners Lloyd Ayers and Derrick Sawyer. Former Mayor Nutter routinely declared gifts in the thousands, but no sideline passes. Mayor Kenney reported receiving only one gift since 2012 - $210 from PECO, identified as a ticket request.

Lynne Abraham, who held the district attorney's post in Philadelphia for 19 years, said she never received passes to games.

"If they were offered to me I would never accept," Abraham said. "I had a strict no-gifts policy for everyone in my office, including myself. You have to judge everything you do by one standard: I would tell my staff, 'How is what I'm doing right this minute going to look on the front page of the Inquirer?' "

Ed Rendell, the former governor, Philadelphia mayor and district attorney, said that while he never received sideline passes, he did take tickets to games.

"There's nothing wrong with that as long as you report them," he said. "I don't think there's any reasonable fan who thinks that because I got tickets to the All-Star Game that I would do something against the public's interest."

Thornburgh said that district attorneys have to be careful taking passes from teams whose players they may have to prosecute.

"Sports figures are woven into the civic fabric. They're high-profile entertainers," he said. "Any case that might rise is a highly publicized, sometimes lurid case that will receive a lot of scrutiny."

In two cases this year, Williams' office has declined to press charges against current or former Eagles players: LeSean McCoy, who was involved in a bar brawl, and Nelson Agholor, who was accused of sexual assault.

In 2013, after Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper was captured on video using a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert, the Eagles approached Williams and other city leaders for advice, Williams said.

Williams said at the time that the Eagles sought his help in finding organizations to donate any fines received from Cooper. "I was appreciative that they reached out to me," he said.

Rashed said that charging decisions on "upward of 50,000 cases a year" aren't up to Williams alone.

"Every case is decided on its merits, and there are dozens of people who make decisions on the merits of the prosecution of the case," Rashed said. "And in a city like Philadelphia, yes, there are times where there are going to be conflicts, which is a good reason why the chief executive of that office [is not personally responsible for charging decisions]. It's done on its merits."


awhelan@philly.com

215-854-2961@aubreyjwhelan

Staff writer Craig R. McCoy contributed to this article.