Ethics Board Hits Philly DA With Its Largest Penalty Ever

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia Board of Ethics has imposed its largest fine ever, $62,000, on District Attorney Seth Williams for a number of violations, including failing to disclose gifts and sources of income and accepting gifts from prohibited sources.

“This is an example of the rules working and we have an elected official being held accountable for not complying with those rules,” said Executive Director Shane Creamer. “That official is now in compliance and has given his full cooperation in the course of the investigation and has agreed to pay a substantial fine.”

Williams has issued a statement accepting full responsibility for what he calls “mistakes,” and apologizing to the people of Philadelphia along with his staff, supporters, friends and family “who have had to endure unwarranted attacks for my shortcomings.”

“I will work to earn back the trust and respect of all of you,” the statement says.

The settlement agreement comes as Williams is running in a crowded field for what would be his third term. He has four challengers in the Democratic primary and a Republican has also declared her candidacy.

CBS 3’s Joe Holden reports the ethics board said Williams has through 2022 to pay off the penalty, owing $10,000 annually starting in 2018. The deal also includes what’s called a re-opener agreement. The ethics board tells CBS 3 should it learn of additional violations, it can amend the deal.

Williams himself triggered the investigation, last summer, when he amended his financial statements for 2010 through 2015, disclosing $160,000 in previously unreported gifts and income.

A spokesman at the time said they were from close family and friends. The gifts included a $45,000 roof on his Overbrook home, plane trips, vacations, suits and watches.

The Board found ten more gifts and payments Williams still had not disclosed:

In 2010 — a gift of $2,500 from Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel, LLP
–a gift of $3,536.59 from William R. Miller, IV
–a gift of $500 from William R. Miller, IV
— income from Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer Toddy, P.C.
In 2011 –a gift of $1,000 from Widener University
— income from Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer Toddy, P.C.
In 2013 — a gift of $7,000 from Mohammad N. Ali
— a gift of $500 from Monumental Baptist Church
— a gift of $630 from Orlando Cummings, Jr.
In 2015 — income from Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer Toddy, P.C.

In addition, the Board found 20 gifts from prohibited sources, “individuals who had a financial interest that the District Attorney was able to substantially affect through official action. They included criminal defense attorneys who were handling cases prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office, as well as subordinate employees and contractors of the District Attorney’s Office.”

In addition to the record fine, Williams will pay the city $2,840, the value of the five largest of the prohibited gifts.

Those were:
— $690 in Phillies and 76ers tickets from Scott DiClaudio, a criminal defense attorney who was handling cases prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office
–$750 in Visa gift cards from Mr. DiClaudio
–$200 in cash from Pierre Gomez, a subordinate employee of the District Attorney’s Office
–$200 in cash from Daniel Kearney, a subordinate employee of the District Attorney’s Office
–$1,000 in lodging from Richard Hoy, a criminal defense attorney who was handling cases prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office.

Creamer notes that the settlement contains two novel elements. One is a stipulated judgement.

“It enables the city to pursue his personal assets if there is a default in the payments,” he says.

The other is a re-opener clause, which allows the Board to re-open the investigation, says Creamer “if we discover other violations that we’re not currently aware of or if it turns out any of the disclosures made so far are inadequate.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that federal authorities are investigating his use of campaign funds.

Creamer declined comment.

He also said the election is of no concern to the board.

“We’re concerned with making sure the D.A.’s held accountable for the violations and that he complies with disclosure requirements.”

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