Wednesday, June 28, 2017

What Was Rufus Thinking?

By Ralph Cipriano

As he sat at the defense table watching the evidence pile up against him, District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams couldn't be blamed for thinking about what might have been.

Today in court, the feds brought in a former campaign official from the D.A.'s political action committee to testify against him, along with an official from the city Board of Ethics.

It was about as exciting as watching an audit in progress. But the feds were effective as they continued to pile up points on the scoreboard. And, over at the defense table, Rufus Seth Williams was left to ponder why he didn't take the deal the feds offered him before trial, which multiple sources described as 20 months to two years in jail, for just a violation of the Travel Act.

Instead, Philadelphia's sitting district attorney is looking at a possible 10 years in the slammer, for multiple counts of bribery, extortion, honest services fraud and wire fraud. As he faces a pro-prosecution judge who, the minute after the jury announces a conviction, will not blink an eye before he orders the marshals to take the defendant out in handcuffs.

The first witness of the day was Francis Cassidy, the general manager of the Sporting Club at the Bellevue.

Cassidy told the jury about executive members of the Sporting Club such as Rufus Seth Williams paid an initiation fee of $550, plus monthly dues of $184.

This matters in the political corruption case against Williams because the D.A.'s bills at the Sporting Club were being paid by his political action committee, the Friends of Seth Williams. And at the beginning of court today, Judge Paul S. Diamond instructed the jury that the state's campaign finance laws prohibit spending PAC money on purely personal expenses.

Uh oh.

On the witness stand, Cassidy described how Rufus's PAC paid for a deep tissue massage and a deep pore cleansing facial for the D.A. plus gratuity at $209. A "revitalizing deep tissue massage for Rufus cost the D.A.'s PAC $141.50.

And the D.A.'s "fitness insanity program" with a personal trainer for Rufus cost $180.

The D.A.'s fitness kick shed 60 pounds off his frame. A trim, muscular D.A. proudly adorned the cover of the Sporting Club's "Belong" magazine, published quarterly in 5,000 copies that were on display at the club for up to 6 months, Cassidy said.

The next witness was Lisette Gonzalez, the former executive director of the D.A.'s PAC.

Gonzalez told the jury how she signed up to raise money for the D.A., provided she could keep 20 percent. Gonzalez explained how she was on unemployment at the time, so she went to work for the D.A.'s PAC at just $1,000 a month, plus a cut of what she raised.

So she could continue to collect her unemployment benefits. The D.A., she said, not only knew but approved the deal.

Gonzalez told the jury how she questioned the biggest monthly expenses the PAC had, namely the D.A.'s monthly tab at the Union League, and Sporting Club. And a $2,674 birthday party that Williams threw at the Union League for his girlfriend.

Gonzalez told the jury how she didn't attend the birthday bash because she thought it was a "personal expenditure."

On cross-examination, defense lawyer Thomas Burke tried to suggest that a trimmer district attorney was more electable. But Gonzalez wasn't buying it.

There were many bigger candidates who run and win, she told the jury.

"I can't agree with that at all."

The last witness of the day was Michael Cooke, from the city's board of ethics.

The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Moran, asked Cooke exciting questions such as, "What is a campaign finance report?" And, "What is a contribution?"

Cooke described how the D.A.'s lawyer, Samuel Stretton, tried to explain why Rufus Seth Williams didn't report some $160,000 in gifts.

"There's not really a good answer, it was a mistake, and we're trying to fix it now," Cooke quoted Stretton as saying.

Cooke also testified how the city ethics board asked Williams and his lawyer if they had been soliciting things of value from people who were seeking official action from the D.A., and that the answer was no.

Would it have been important for you to know whether those gifts were solicited or not, the prosecutor asked Cooke.

"Yes," he said.

Court resumes tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. Then, thanks to the July 4th holiday, the Seth Williams trial will take a five-day hiatus, beginning with no court on Friday, and continuing through until Wednesday, when the prosecution is expected to wind up its case.


  1. Must've been a boring trial day..
    your recaps aren't as detailed..
    is this all that happened today?
    I feel bad for you all who have to sit in trial and it takes HOURS for conversations to come out..

  2. Although it may be boring it also represents a direct violation of the law, no? Are you implying that Seth purposely recorded the pay to his director of his PAC a sum less than what she was actually paid in order for her to receive unemployment benefits? If this is what was testified to then isn't he guilty of government fraud? I agree it is not a salacious charge but it sure sounds illegal.

  3. Ralph as usual this is awesome. It's not boring to read at all. Sorry you had to sit through 8 hours for it. And to the other commenter that pointed out how the Inky's day ends at 2pm, yeah.

    This, though:

    "Cooke also testified how the city ethics board asked Williams and his lawyer if they had been soliciting things of value from people who were seeking official action from the D.A., and that the answer was no."

    Rufus is almost 60 days late on his 2016 Financial Disclosure Forms. Is there an official act going on? I think there is... Is Rufus caught between another ethics fine and another Hobbs Act charge? Why would he non-file after all this?

    That tells me this case will wrap by the 8th. Little Sethie is not going to testify. The Feds are setting him up to say that there was no official act, and if he testifies, it will be open season. They have a hole card.

    And not to nit-pick, but the max is more like 310 years, though 10-20 does seem to be the conventional wisdom.

    1. Inky (assume you mean the Inquirer?) leaves out a lot of details. I much prefer Ralph's coverage. Glad I found this website.

  4. He's not getting 20 years. There are senrencing guidelines as you know well. Please do not mislead. #yellow journalism

  5. Just saw something flash on my phone that he pled guilty. The link didn't work. Anyone else see that?

  6. Ralph did the comment above actually post at 11:27 pm? If so, it preceded a guilty plea phone call by a mere 90 minutes.

  7. I am on your Mobile Site and I don't see a donate button or any ads, why don't you all have a donate button or ads?


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