The Philadelphia Board of Ethics reached a $62,000 settlement with Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams over the lingering issue of $160,000 worth of undisclosed gifts Williams accepted over five years. The amount represents the largest penalty in the board's ten-year history.
"These mistakes were my own and I accept full responsibility for my failure to do everything that was required of me as a public official," Williams said, in an emailed statement. "It was wrong to fail to fully and accurately disclose the payments and gifts I received. I apologize to the people of Philadelphia."
According to the settlement, Williams will also pay the city $2,800 for several expressly prohibited gifts he accepted from lawyers and members of his security detail during the same time period.
“That’s impressive,” said Williams’ predecessor as DA, Lynne Abraham, of the settlement agreement. “I never accepted a dime of gifts while I was in office. It’s inherently wrong to accept money and not declare it. It’s unacceptable conduct that brings the office into disrepute. He’s extremely fortunate he hasn't been disbarred already.”
The board found that Williams erred in accepting gifts from individuals “he was able to substantially affect through official action” – namely, lawyers (and personal friends) Richard Hoy, Scott DiClaudio and members of his security detail.
He self-reported the gifts in August 2016, among them $45,000 in unpermitted roofing work he accepted from the politically connected NJ-based contractor Michael Palmieri, along with dozens of smaller monetary or in-kind exchanges.
The issue has become a lightning rod for a number of challengers that have lined up to challenge Williams in both the Democratic primary in May and in November’s general election. In a prepared statement, opponant and former federal prosecutor Joe Khan issued a statement calling for Williams to resign over his ethical issues.
"How can anyone possibly trust a District Attorney who himself is guilty of unethical and admittedly illegal behavior?" he wrote. "The only decent thing for Williams to do at this point is to step down."
In addition to rumors of a long-running FBI investigation that may have spurred the disclosure, Williams has reportedly struggled to raise campaign cash for his re-election – and has publicly stated that he’s short on cash.
“He’s been quoted as saying he can’t live on $179,000 a year,” said Abraham. “So I don’t know how he’s going to run for re-election and pay that fine.”
This article has been updated to include comments from spokesmen for Williams and Khan.