Thursday, June 29, 2017

D.A. Leaves Court In Handcuffs

By Ralph Cipriano

Rufus Seth Williams glanced nervously over his shoulder at the two U.S. Marshals lurking behind his chair at the defense table.

Judge Paul S. Diamond held up a 14-page guilty plea agreement.

"I have a guilty plea from the highest law enforcement officer in the city who betrayed and sold his office," the judge said. "I am appalled by  the evidence I heard yesterday."

The judge talked about how the district attorney of Philadelphia, under penalty of perjury, had handed in six amended financial statements that were "riddled with falsehoods." Then, the judge announced he was revoking bail because he didn't believe the defendant had any credibility left. The marshals put the cuffs on the startled Williams and led him out of the courtroom in disgrace as his ex-wife began crying.

For Rufus Seth Williams, it was all over. No more chauffeured rides around the city with his big, burly bodyguards in brand new black SUVs. No more deep-tissue massages and deep-pore facials at the Sporting Club. No more cigars at the Union League.

Williams, who waited until today to resign as D.A., was off to jail. Specifically, an 8 x 10 cell in the Special Housing Unit on the top floor of the federal prison at 7th and Market. It's a place where, for nearly four months, Williams, as a former law enforcement official, will wear an orange jumpsuit, and be in solitary confinement in  his cell for 23 hours a day on weekdays, and 24 hours on weekends. Until he is sentenced by Judge Diamond on Oct. 24th.

The day began with a palpable buzz on the 14th floor of the federal courthouse. The phones of reporters lit up with text messages. The rumor was that the political corruption trial of Rufus Seth Williams, about to start its eighth day, was going to end abruptly.

Because early this morning, around 1:30 a.m., Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Zauzmer got a phone call from Thomas Burke, the D.A.'s lawyer.

The D.A., who had been talking with his lawyers all night after the evidence piled up against him, was ready to cut a deal.

When court began at 9:30 a.m., the prosecutors and FBI agents were seen smiling and chatting. Over at the defense table, lawyers Burke and Trevan Borum were looking grim. And Rufus Seth Williams was nowhere to be found.

Nearly 90 minutes later, court finally began. The judge announced a guilty plea had been agreed to by the lawyers in the case. The judge asked Williams a set of embarrassing questions to make sure the defendant was in his right mind.

In answer to the judge's questions, Williams said the only drugs he was talking was a prescription for high blood pressure and a baby aspirin.

He did say he was under the care of a psychologist "to deal with the stress of everything going on with my trial." Williams told the judge he was "very satisfied" with Burke's representation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Zauzmer stood up and read the plea bargain deal in court. Williams was pleading guilty to count one of the indictment, a violation of the U.S. Travel Act where Williams traveled to a Punta Cana resort with businessman Mohammad Ali, in the process of taking a bribe while he was plotting take other bribes.

Ali, a suspected money launderer, was bribing Williams with two free vacations in Punta Cana, and a free $3,000 sofa, in exchange for an official act. The act: Williams agreed to "look into" the guilty plea of a friend of Ali's on a drug arrest. But the D.A. wound up doing nothing to keep the friend out of jail.

Williams, however, did get the two free vacations and the chocolate-colored sofa.

"I am merely a thankful beggar and don't want to overstep my bounds in asking," Williams had texted Ali, when he accepted the offer of a second free trip to Punta Cana. But, the D.A. texted Ali, "we will gladly go."

In exchange, the government agreed to drop counts 2 through 29 of the 29-count federal indictment, although the catch was Williams had to admit that all the allegations against him laid out in those counts were true.

Williams admitted to taking more bribes in the form of $9,000 in cash and a check from Ali. And Williams admitted to taking more bribes from Michael Weiss, the owner of Woody's, a Center city gay bar. The bribes came in the form of 16 round-trip airplane tickets to San Diego, Las Vegas, and Florida, along with other gifts that included money and a 1997 Jaguar XK8 convertible.

In exchange for the bribes, Williams admitted that he did officials acts on Weiss's behalf. Such as naming Weiss, a convicted felon, as a special advisor to the D.A.'s office, and giving him a badge. And writing a letter on the D.A.'s official stationery to the California Board of Alcoholic Beverage Control, in support of Weiss' application to hang onto the ownership of a San Diego bar, despite his felony tax conviction.

Williams also admitted he stole $13,000 in income from his mother that was supposed to go to a Catholic nursing home where his mother was a patient. And Williams admitted to pocketing a $10,000 check that friends of his mother donated, to pay for his mother's nursing home expenses.

So Williams was looking at a sentence of 5 years, followed by probation for three years, along with a fine of $250,000 and $64,840 in forfeitures.

As part of the plea bargain, Williams agreed to resign as district attorney.

Is that effective immediately, the judge asked.

"Humbly, sincerely, and effective immediately," Williams replied.

The judge gave Williams a chance to speak.

"I'm just very sorry for all this trouble," Williams said.

It was time to argue over bail. Burke claimed that Williams was no flight risk because he was "deeply in debt," and "he doesn't even have a car."

Williams, trying to explain why he wasn't going anywhere, talked about his close attachments to his three daughters, aged 29, 17 and 13. He told the judge he was close to his ex-wife, and shared joint custody of his two youngest daughters.

Williams told the judge he had no more than $150 to $200 in his bank account, despite an annual salary of $170,000.

Williams claimed he owned no credit cards. The only car at his house, he said, was a 1991 Ford Crown Victoria formerly owned by his father that hadn't been driven in eight years.

Asked by the prosecutor how he was going to get around without an official car, Williams replied, "I have about four bicycles at my home." And his house, which is up for sale, the defendant said, was located just three blocks away from a SEPTA station.

Asked by the prosecutor how he was going to survive without an income, Williams said, "I'm gonna try and figure that out."

But the judge had a different idea -- sending Williams off to jail immediately in handcuffs.

And that was just the start of it.

Over at the holding tank at the SHU, Williams will be strip-searched, subjected to a body cavity search, and then fingerprinted.

A doctor will check him out. Williams will be handed a "roll," prison lingo for a blanket, sheet, towel and a bottle of shampoo.

For at least the first 10 days, Williams will be allowed no phone calls. Then, he will be allowed one 15-minute phone call a month. And one visit a week, where he will have to talk to visitors through a glass.

No cell phones, no computers.

His 8 by 10 cell at the SHU features a shower, desk, frosted window, and a combination toilet and sink. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, Williams will be handed a razor, and allowed to shave.

His weekly snacks are limited to: three Snickers bars, three small packets of cubed chicken breasts, two honey buns and one box of Ritz crackers.

Once a day, the correctional officers will knock on Williams cell and ask him if he wants an hour of "rec" -- short for recreation. If he accepts, Williams will spend an hour in a 6 x 12 steel cage where he can walk in circles, do pushups and sit-ups.

"You're like a fucking dog in a kennel," was how one former SHU inmate described it.

One longtime friend of Williams who witnessed the spectacle of the former D.A. being led away in handcuffs, took it hard.

"What you saw today," he said, "was a man hitting rock bottom."

Even if that man was Rufus Seth Williams, the guy who sold his office and disgraced law enforcement.

 Even though he had it coming, it was still not a pretty sight.


  1. Hi Ralph - excellent, as usual. As soon as I get his exact address, I'm going to send him a letter which I'll publish on this blog.

    I was wondering if you have been able to persuade the feds, or any other investigative agency for that matter, to look into the Avery, Lynn, Engelhardt and Shero investigations, indictments, sham trials, etc.

    Seems to me that there are several smoking guns that would likewise warrant investigation. I'd start with Sorensen and offer her immunity.

  2. Danny Gallagher needs to go to the SHU for posterity!

  3. That judge is an a--hole. Pardon my French.
    But he would t allow the defense attorney to ask several witnesses the same questions despite them not being able to hear each other's answers, he barely allowed the defense enough time to prepare for trial, Kathleen Kane had over a year.. she is more of a flight risk.. I could go on and on but won't.

    1. There is not one ounce of sadness for the outcome of this trial. This man and his last ADA were responsible for the destruction of the lives and careers of several innocent people and the pain it continues to cause their families. He is still alive!!! Father Englehart is not!!!

  4. It is probably better that you not go on because you will only display your ignorance about the court system further. Kathleen Kane was tried before a state Judge in Montgomery County. Seth Williams was tried before a federal Judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The difference between the two courts are striking. Anyone with any understanding or background in these proceedings could have told you that this Judge's comments and rulings from day 1 before the trial started indicated a no nonsense serious jurist would be trying the case. Seth, as an experienced Assistant District Attorney and then the District Attorney of Philadelphia should have realized what the persona of this Judge was before most other people. This no-nonsense Judge let his disposition known from the get go. Seth was guilty of every charge lodged against him. Seth knew it and eventually so did the Judge. Actually, Seth is fortunate that the Judge accepted the guilty plea. Otherwise, Seth could be looking at doing 20 years in prison now. Greed is a killer but so is the allure of the glamour to hang with the rich and famous. This was Seth's downfall. It is sad because Seth came in to the office with so much promise and potential. Unfortunately, Seth has no one else to blame but himself for his newfound misery.

    1. I agree with most of what you say except to add that in my opinion most judges are pro-prosecution which is usually evident to all even the public.

    2. Most judges aren't "pro-prosecution" and tend to be rather even-keeled. There are a number of defense attorneys in robes, however. Would you have preferred that instead?


    1. There are many defense lawyers in this town who looked at that indictment and asked the same question. The way the evidence was coming in, it was an appropriate question to ask. Again, the officials actions taken by Rufus in this case were on the relatively petty side. They did not catch him fixing cases.

      What happens in court changes daily, hourly, etc. The day Rufus took the deal, the evidence that he was a sleaze bag was piling up. Hours before he took the deal, I wrote that he was probably regretting not taking the deal.

      In my dispatches, you saw the progression of the case. Rufus at the beginning thought he had a chance. Then, the walls started closing around him. I can't say I'd change anything I wrote.

      To think that someone would accuse me of being slanted in favor of the D.A., after how I've been pummeling him alone for seven years, is pretty funny.

    2. I think Seth Williams as a DA was horrible.
      I also think the crimes he committed were pure greed. But I also think the judge was unfair.

  6. And the four police officers will enjoy their morning coffee knowing Seth Williams is sitting in the Hanoi Hilton version of the SHU.

  7. When I learned of Williams' guilty plea and his subsequent imprisonment, I could not help but think of the old expression: "What goes around comes around." Seth was vociferous in his condemnation of PA officials who he prosecuted for taking bribes, etc and behold! He pleads guilty to the same crimes for which he prosecuted other civic leaders.

    Finally, I can't help but think that God has also allowed Seth to experience in some fashion the humiliation and all that goes along with it because of his unjust prosecution of Msgr. Lynn, Fr. Andrew McCormick, et al.

    1. Plus the four innocent philly police officers.

    2. Who? Hysterical. This made me laff. Thank you for that James.

  8. Seth,
    Ad multos annos.

    1. @anonymous 6:31 - the slammer???

  9. "I have a few bicycles & about $200 in my checking account". Talk about hitting rock bottom. How will his attorney get paid?

  10. Ralph - this might be a little early, but do you have any thoughts on:

    1) Whether the Lynn retrial will ever happen,

    2) Whether Williams is connected to the Johnny Doc investigation?

    One of the search warrants, in between the paragraph on Weiss and Jaguar and the paragraph on Richard Hoy and Michael Palmieri, was seeking email information pertaining to several of Doc's associates, Laurie Malone, and Children's International Summer Villages.

    This is a pretty wide net, and it covers none of the things he was actually charged on.

    Do you think this was a fishing trip, or did the Feds just get a small fish to use on the big fish? Or was there something bigger in the works and the Feds were caught off guard by the judge's sense of urgency?

    1. The feds always want a high profile corruption case running at all times, even if they have to invent the crimes.

  11. Ralph or anyone else who may know I have a question:
    If I am an elected official i.e. DA, Governer, Attorney General.. you get the picture..
    If I am going on vacations with friends, and let's say I host 4th of July and Memorial Day and my friends want to take turn and go somewhere for Labor Day and it includes air tickets & hotel, would I have to claim that as a gift?


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