Monday, June 26, 2017

Deputy Police Commissioner Comes To Court To Bury Rufus

By Ralph Cipriano

Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Sullivan testified in court today about an awkward lunch he had back in 2013 at the Union League with District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams and his little Muslim buddy, Mohammad Ali.

"It didn't feel right," Sullivan said about the district attorney's attempts to extract favorable treatment from the police department to benefit Ali whenever he was coming through the Philadelphia International Airport.

"It made me uncomfortable," Sullivan testified about lunch with Rufus and Mohammad. So uncomfortable that Sullivan went straight to the FBI.

A high-ranking FBI official told Sullivan he would look into the case of Ali, the Jordanian native who was jet-setting all over the globe, had some $200 million stashed in his bank account, and was suspected of money laundering. The next day, the FBI official called Sullivan and told him, "Stay away from Mr. Ali," Sullivan recalled. "And he [the FBI official] advised the D.A. to do the same," Sullivan testified.

But Rufus Seth Williams was either too dumb or too greedy to take the hint.

Before he was promoted to deputy police commissioner in March, Sullivan, a 36-year veteran of the police department, was a chief inspector assigned to Homeland Security. In that capacity, Sullivan  supervised more than 100 city cops at the Philadelphia International Airport.

Sullivan's relationship with Mohammad Ali got started in 2012 with a phone call from the district attorney. Williams called Sullivan to complain about an Islamic constituent who was getting hassled every time he went through the airport, Sullivan told the jury.

"It's very important we have good relationships with the Islamic community," Sullivan testified. He took the complaint to his counterpart at the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, and asked him to look into it.

"I made it clear this was an official request, not a favor," Sullivan said.

Williams, Sullivan said, was willing to vouch for Ali's character. At first, Sullivan said, Ali's complaint of unfair treatment seemed founded. Ali had a common Islamic name, and Sullivan was told that an inquiry about Ali was "probably sitting on a desk waiting to be closed out."

Sullivan suggested Ali apply for a global entry program that allows frequent fliers to bypass airport security screenings. Ali followed Sullivan's advice but his application was denied.

On another occasion in February 2012, Sullivan testified, Williams called him to request that a police officer stand by when Ali came into the airport, to get past a secondary screening.

It was an "uncommon" request, Sullivan said. But a police officer showed up, and Ali texted Sullivan that his trip through the airport was "very smooth."

Ali did get stopped for a secondary security screening, but this time, it only took ten minutes instead of the usual two hours.

"I thank you again," Ali texted Sullivan.

But then a top official from Homeland Security "grabbed" Sullivan, the deputy police commissioner said, and told him "very seriously" that "there was an issue with Ali and he needs me to stay away from it."

Sullivan said he called District Attorney Williams to let him know the police wouldn't be doing any more favors for Mohammad Ali.

"I assured him [the D.A.] we would no longer be involved in that matter," Sullivan said. "And he shouldn't be either," Sullivan said he warned the D.A.

But Seth Williams didn't take Sullivan's advice.

Sullivan said he was subsequently invited by Williams to the Union League on March 15, 2013, to have lunch with the D.A. and Ali.

"He wanted to discuss something with me," Sullivan said.

Since the lunch was during business hours, Sullivan decided to go, but he made it a very public affair. Sullivan said he wore his full dress uniform, and had his driver park conspicuously out in front of the Union League.

"It was a public lunch not a private lunch," Sullivan told the jury.

"It felt a little bit uncomfortable," he said. Asked by the prosecutor if he was a member of the Union League, Sullivan replied, "I don't make that kind of money."

He was there 45 minutes.

"I believe I had soup," Sullivan told the jury.

At the luncheon, Sullivan said that Ali told him, "He loved this country. He didn't understand why he was treated this way and that there was nothing that could be done about it."

But while he ate his soup, Sullivan didn't feel right about hobnobbing with Ali and Williams at the Union League.

"I felt like it was some type of performance that I was a part of of," the deputy police commissioner told the jury.

Sullivan was expecting some new information from Seth Williams, but lunch at the Union League turned out to be just a rehash.

But it made Sullivan so uncomfortable he immediately told the FBI about it. When the FBI warned him about Ali, Sullivan said he figured he had to tell Seth Williams.

So, Sullivan said, he called Williams and warned him a second time that "He needs to stay away from Mr. Ali."

"I was angry at the time," Sullivan said, so he told Williams forcefully that he would have "nothing further to do with Mr. Ali." And he told Williams he should do the same.

Sullivan said he did not appreciate being put into the "company of people who could call my character into question."

What was the D.A.'s reaction to the warning, the prosecutor asked.

"He thanked me," Sullivan said.

But the D.A. didn't take Sullivan's advice. Instead, according to the indictment, later that same day Williams had lunch with Ali and Sullivan at the Union Leagie, Williams accepted a $7,000 check from Ali to help pay his bills.

The prosecutor asked Sullivan if he knew that Williams was "accepting things of value."

No, he didn't, Sullivan said.

Had he known, "I would have gone to the FBI sooner," Sullivan said.

On cross-examination,  Sullivan explained that he had a relationship with a person of another race and was "familiar with the problems they face" in terms of discrimination. That's why initially, he took Ali's complaint seriously.

But it turned out to be a mistake.

"I was misinformed," Sullivan said.

On cross, Thomas Burke, the D.A.'s defense lawyer, handled the deputy police commissioner like he was a live grenade. So Sullivan got a chance to reiterate his talking points.

"I was trying to let him [Williams] know that it was a bad idea" to try and help Ali, Sullivan said. "I told him to stay away from Mr. Ali. I told him that very forcefully, and that it was coming from the FBI. We should not be involved in anything to benefit Mr. Ali."

When he was done testifying, Sullivan went outside the courthouse and held an impromptu press conference on the sidewalk, for the benefit of TV reporters.

Once again, Sullivan stuck to his talking points as he continued a campaign to bury Rufus.

"I just felt that something wasn't right and I felt that the best course of action was to run it through my counterparts at the FBI," Sullivan told the reporters.

Meanwhile, inside the courthouse, the next star government witness was Michael Weiss, owner of Woody's, a Center City gay bar. Weiss, the government charged, was bribing Seth Williams for years with free vacations and a free Jaguar convertible.

Weiss, however, was not a chatty witness. In fact,Weiss was so reluctant to talk that the judge described Weiss as almost a hostile witness. So the judge allowed the prosecutor to ask Weiss leading questions.

"I've seen reluctant witnesses," Judge Paul S. Diamond said. "If he [Weiss] could be anywhere else in the world," the judge said, before Weiss came walking back into the courtroom after a break.

"Ah, there he is," the judge said.

So the prosecutor was reduced to dragging Weiss through numerous text messages left on his cell phone. The text messages showed that while Weiss was asking Seth for favors, Weiss was happily arranging free plane trips for Williams. In text messages that were often minutes apart.

There were three trips to Florida, a trip to Las Vegas, and another flight to San Diego that Weiss provided for Williams, his girlfriend, and even the D.A.'s daughters when they were on spring break. Weiss also provided Williams' girlfriend with a 1997 Jaguar XKE convertible.

"Dude, I never want to be a drag on your wallet," Williams texted after Weiss offered to fly Williams and his girlfriend to Key West. "But we are always up for an adventure."

Meanwhile, Seth Williams was appointing Michael Weiss, a convicted felon, as his special advisor. And writing letters of recommendation on behalf of Weiss to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Where Weiss had an application pending to continue as an officer and shareholder of a bar, even though he had been convicted on a felony tax dodging rap.

When a member of Weiss's condo board didn't believe Weiss was a special advisor to the D.A., Weiss got Williams to write a letter on official stationery stating that Weiss was a special advisor. On Weiss's request, Williams agreed to backdate the letter to make it look like it was an announcement when Williams first gave Weiss the honorary position.

When Weiss's liquor license was pending out in California, Weiss wrote out a letter for Seth Williams to send to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. In the letter Weiss wrote for Williams to sign, Williams praised Weiss as an "honorable and trustworthy" community leader who was a "model citizen."

The prosecutor had Weiss read the proposed letter out loud that Weiss wrote out for Williams to send to California authorities. The point seemed to be that Williams sent out the exact same letter on his official D.A. stationery that Weiss wrote for him to sign.

But before the prosecutor could ask Weiss to read the final letter that Williams sent, the judge, who was glancing at his watch, and clearly bored by the testimony, decided it was a good time to break for the day.

Weiss will face cross-examination when the case resumes tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom 14A at the federal courthouse.

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