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SEPTA’s Jerri Williams Trades Day Job For The Writer’s Life

By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — She’s a familiar voice to KYW listeners as chief spokesperson for SEPTA and before that the FBI’s Philadelphia office, but Jerri Williams is making a big career change.

She’ll announce, today, that she’s leaving SEPTA, not for another employer, but to pursue her dream of becoming a crime novelist.

“I’ve always wanted to write,” says Williams, “and it was really after only one or two classes that I thought, ‘I can do this,’ and started writing my novel.”

That first novel, Pay to Play, is already “on submission” in New York publishing houses. She calls it “edgy” and it’s certainly a different side of Williams than you see when she goes before the cameras to explain, for example, SEPTA’s plan for the Pope’s visit.

“Stu Sebastiani tucked a C-note down the server’s sequined bra and raised his voice above the pulsing music. ‘Can I cop a feel for a hundred-dollar bill?’ The curvaceous blonde in her glittery halter and hot pants smiled, signaling in Sebastiani’s mind, consent. However, when he patted her butt, she scowled and dislodged his hand from her backside with a well-placed slug to his solar plexus.”

The plot revolves around a female FBI agent investigating corruption in the Philadelphia strip club industry. If that sounds familiar, well, a writer has to get her raw material somewhere.

“It’s actually a fictionalized version of a FBI investigation here in the city,” she says. “It was actually investigated by two very attractive female FBI agents and I loved it when they told me their stories about meeting with strippers and going in and out of strip clubs and I thought, ‘I gotta write a book about this.'”

With more than 20 years of investigating fraud for the FBI, Williams says she already has novels two and three in her head.

 

An Air Force brat, Williams came to Philadelphia just a few years into her FBI career and has lived here ever since. She investigated the massive Ponzi scheme operated by the New Era foundation and still keeps a clip file of audacious scams, which she now posts on Twitter with the hashtag “fraud of the day.”

“The people that I was investigating were very smart. I mean they were con artists,” she says. “They loved to think they were the smartest people in the room and I loved being able to investigate them.”

She spent her last six years at the FBI doing media relations.

When she retired in 2008 (the FBI allows agents to retire as early as 50 because retirement is mandatory at age 57), she says she was looking for a job that would be just as active and challenging and actually thought about doing media relations for SEPTA when a head hunter called saying the transit agency was interested in her.

“I am so proud of working for SEPTA, I’m so proud of what they do every day, of how much they care,” says Williams.

She will miss the people, she says, but last year she acquired a literary agent from Curtis Brown in New York and decided she had to commit herself if she wanted to be a writer.

“It’s scary,” she says.

But she is ready for the next chapter.

“I’m quitting my day job to follow my dream.”

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