Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams abruptly pleaded guilty Thursday, nearly two weeks into a federal bribery trial that dragged embarrassing details about his messy personal life and financial struggles out into open court.
Williams will resign as the city’s top prosecutor as part of a deal under which he pleaded guilty to one count related to accepting a bribe from Bucks County businessman Mohammad Ali.
Asked by U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond whether he intended to follow through with resigning, Williams choked up and answered, “humbly, sincerely and effective immediately.”
Diamond said he wanted Williams’ resignation letter couriered to the mayor’s office as soon as the hearing was over.
Williams remained somber looking throughout the guilty plea hearing.
“I’m just very sorry for all of this, your honor,” he said.
In addition to accepting that he could face a maximum 5-year sentence, Williams agreed to forfeit $64,878.22
While the 28 remaining counts against Williams were dismissed, he “admits that he committed all of the conduct in those 29 counts,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer said.
“Williams took benefits repeatedly from Mr. Ali knowing that those benefits were offered – at least in part – to influence him to take official actions,” said Zauzmer.
Williams notified prosecutors he wanted to take the plea deal at 1 a.m.Thursday, said Zauzmer.
Sources close to the case say the deal is similar to one Williams was offered – and turned down – one day before his indictment earlier this year on 29 corruption-related counts including bribery, extortion and honest services fraud.
Prior to his admission, prosecutors and Williams’ defense lawyers – Thomas F. Burke and Trevan Borum – spent more than an hour huddled in quiet conversation in the courtroom, while the district attorney was nowhere to be seen.
His decision came after weeks of damaging testimony in which government witnesses characterized him a shameless beggar who repeatedly turned to the money of others to fund a lifestyle he couldn’t afford.
Two wealthy businessmen testified that they had showered the district attorney with gifts of all-expenses-paid travel, luxury goods and even cash in anticipation of the legal favors they might need from him.
And prosecutors had alleged that Williams delivered for them – writing letters to throw his weight into their legal problems and promising in one instance to intervene in a drug case brought by his office.
Additionally, Williams was accused of misspending thousands of dollars from his campaign fund on memberships to exclusive Philadelphia social clubs, misusing city vehicles as if they were his own and misappropriating money intended to fund his mother’s nursing home care.
Read a recap of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams’ trial with our and learn more with our on everything you need to know about the case.