DA Williams fined $62,000 for ethics violations

The city Board of Ethics fined District Attorney Seth Williams $62,000 - the largest penalty in the board's history - for failure to report five sources of income and 89 gifts on city financial statements.

District Attorney Seth Williams' habit of failing to report gifts has proven costly.

The city's top law enforcement officer has been fined $62,000 by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics for failure to report five sources of income and 89 gifts on city financial statements over six years. It is the largest penalty ever imposed by the decade-old ethics board.

Williams will also be required to pay the city $2,840, the value of five gifts he received that were prohibited under the city's Ethics Code.

"Among the gifts District Attorney Williams failed to disclose . . . were 20 gifts from individuals who had a financial interest that the district attorney was able to substantially affect through official action at the time they gave the gifts," the Ethics Board news release said. "These individuals included criminal defense attorneys who were handling cases prosecuted by the District Attorney's Office, as well as subordinate employees and contractors of the District Attorney's Office."

Williams, who is paid a $175,572 annual salary, released the following statement Tuesday evening:

"These mistakes were my own and I accept full responsibility for my failure to do everything that was required of me as a public official. It was wrong to fail to fully and accurately disclose the payments and gifts I received."

He apologized "to the people of Philadelphia, the hardworking and talented staff of the District Attorney's Office, my supporters, the friends who supported me."

Williams said through a spokesman that he was unavailable for an interview.

The Ethics Board's announcement comes as Williams begins a reelection campaign against four Democratic challengers. At least one of those candidates, Joe Khan, jumped on the Ethics Board announcement Tuesday and asked for Williams to resign.

The fines and payments stem from shortcomings in statements of financial interests that Williams filed with the city for 2010 through 2015. He declared in each that he had not received any gifts as defined by city ethics codes.

In August, Williams amended those statements to list $160,050 in previously unreported gifts, including home repairs, airfare and lodgings for vacations, cash, gift cards, and Eagles sideline passes.

Tuesday's Ethics Board news release said seven additional cash gifts totaling $15,666 were never reported.

Those included $2,500 from the law firm Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP; $1,000 from Widener University; and $7,000 from Mohammad N. Ali, a campaign contributor who Williams had previously reported gave him a $3,000 trip in 2012 to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, along with a $300 iPad and a $2,700 couch.

Shane Creamer, executive director of the Ethics Board, said that while those gifts were legal, Williams was required to report any gift worth $200 or more.

"It's legal to accept gifts. He just has to disclose them," Creamer said.

Some gifts are illegal, whether they are reported or not.

The City Ethics Code prohibits a city officer, such as Williams, from accepting monetary gifts in any amount or nonmonetary gifts worth more than $99 in one year from a person who has a financial interest that the officer has the power to affect.

The prohibited gifts Williams received included:

$690 in Phillies and 76ers tickets from Scott DiClaudio, a criminal defense lawyer who was handling cases prosecuted by the District Attorney's Office.

$750 in Visa gift cards from DiClaudio.

$200 in cash from Pierre Gomez, who worked as part of Williams' security unit in the District Attorney's Office.

$200 in cash from Daniel Kearney, also part of Williams' security unit in the District Attorney's Office.

$1,000 in lodging from Richard Hoy, a criminal defense lawyer who was handling cases prosecuted by the District Attorney's Office.

Williams was also required to disclose other income of $500 or more a year. He failed to disclose income from the law firm of Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer Toddy from 2010, 2011, and 2015, the Ethics Board said.

The Ethics Board fined Williams for each omission in six financial statements and in the amended version, as well as for accepting the prohibited gifts, all of which totaled $62,000.

Williams agreed to pay $2,500 by Dec. 31 and at least $10,000 each subsequent calendar year until the full amount is paid, no later than Dec. 31, 2022.

Williams also must pay the city an additional $2,840, the value of the prohibited gifts he received, by April 30.

The Ethics Board filed a stipulated judgment in Common Pleas Court on Tuesday to ensure that if Williams does not follow through with the payment agreement, the board can pursue his personal assets, including his city salary and car. The judgment automatically places a lien on Williams' home, Creamer said.

"This is the first time we've had a stipulated judgment," Creamer said. "There was concern with a penalty being so high, it may not be paid."

Creamer added that the payments are to come from Williams' personal money and not from his campaign funds.

cvargas@phillynews.com

215-854-5520 @InqCVargas

Inquirer reporter Chris Brennan contributed to this article.