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General News    H2'ed 8/26/16

Philadelphia DA Hammered Over Unethical Antics

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Message Linn Washington

Even in politics where alarming perversions too often parade as acceptable standards it is pretty astounding for a politician to assert that inadvertent error is the reason for his failure to report receipt of gifts and other free items valued at $160,050 over a five-year period.

Yet, that is the stance Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams took recently when he filed belated annual financial disclosure forms listing nearly ninety items he received including luxury vacations, cash, gift cards, tickets to professional sporting events and a Rolex watch that Williams valued at $6,500.

Williams' oops-I-forgot-to-file-the-required-forms claim comes from the man who once served as Philadelphia's Inspector General, the official tasked with pursuing unethical conduct and corruption. Williams was required to complete those disclosure forms listing all gifts he received on an annual basis.

The FBI and other federal enforcement authorities are now examining Williams' receipt of those gifts plus allegations about misuse of his campaign funds and irregularities at a non-profit organization created by Williams, a Democratic. Federal probes of Williams' activities began months before his belated ethics disclosure filings.

Williams, elected as Philadelphia's first African-American District Attorney in November 2009, entered office weeks later enjoying high public support. Most Philadelphians expected Williams would fulfill his campaign promises to end unjust practices of his predecessor who was an ardent death penalty advocate who virtually ignored abuses by police from perjury to brutality.

Protest outside office of Philly DA Seth Williams
Protest outside office of Philly DA Seth Williams
(Image by Linn Washington Jr.)
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However Williams, despite initiating some applauded reforms, squandered political capital and personal image fighting to sustain wrongful convictions (including death penalty convictions), failing to vigorously fight police abuses and supporting staff members exposed in the 'Porngate' email scandal involving exchanges of sexist/racist/homophobic emails between judges and prosecutors in Pennsylvania.

A prime example of Williams' continuing the persecution practices of that predecessor he castigated as a candidate is the recent acquittal of Anthony Wright, a Philadelphia man who spent 25-years in prison for a rape-murder he did not commit.

The Innocence Project fought Williams' DA predecessor for five years to obtain DNA testing of the evidence that put Wright in prison. When DNA testing proved Wright innocent Williams opposed Wright's release. That opposition included Williams ignoring documentation that police fabricated evidence against Wright.

Williams forced a retrial of Wright where a jury acquitted Wright after just ninety minutes of deliberation. Jurors and the Innocence Project termed that retrial of Wright, who is now 44, an outrage.

Williams' oops-I-forgot-to-file-the-required-forms claim clashed with his posture during a March 2015 press conference. At that press conference Williams spewed scornful indignation when he announced bribery indictments against some state legislators from Philadelphia arising from an undercover sting. Pennsylvania's then Attorney General had castigated that sting as racially tainted entrapment, a conclusion Williams sternly rejected.

"You don't get a pass just because you are a friend or members of my political party or race," DA Williams roared when he announced the indictments of those black state legislators that included an 81-year-old reverend, a radio gospel music hostess who Williams said he had admired his entire life.

Some of those legislators in that sting claimed they did not list the informant's cash on their financial disclosure forms because they considered that cash as gifts from a friend. Williams claimed he did not list cash and other freebies he received because he considered it gifts from friends including monies from a lawyer/friend Williams supported to become a judge in Philadelphia.

Williams does not face bribery or other charges in relation to receipt of his previously unreported gifts like those legislators that Williams convicted through their guilty pleas. One of those legislators, a former Philadelphia policeman shot while stopping a robbery, plead guilty to accepting $750. Williams, in 2014, accepted $750 in gifts cards according to his belated disclosure filings.

Shockingly, the total amount of all payoffs to those five legislators ensnared in that controversial sting operation was less than half of the $45,000 in roofing and other home repairs Williams received in the fall of 2013 but failed to report until a few weeks ago.

In 2015 when Williams congratulated himself for those indictments of legislators he received a "gift" from a Philadelphia lawyer to vacation at that lawyer's Florida beach house -- where Williams had vacationed previously. Williams travelled to that posh beach house on airline tickets purchased by a Philadelphia bar owner -- who previously paid the airfare for Williams' travel to that beach house. Also in 2015, Williams received gifts of champagne, wine and free lawn mowing at his home according to the amended financial disclosure forms Williams filed recently.

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Linn Washington is a co-founder of This Can't Be Washington writes frequently on inequities in the criminal justice system, ills in society and problems in the news media. He teaches multi-media urban journalism at Temple (more...)

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