Ex-colleague plans to defend Philadelphia DA’s bribery case

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) – A former colleague pledged to represent Philadelphia’s top prosecutor in a federal bribery case despite his client’s financial problems.

An irate federal judge has ordered District Attorney Seth Williams to find a lawyer by Friday afternoon. He warned that Williams had plenty of time to prepare for last week’s indictment given the nearly two-year FBI probe of his finances.

Defense lawyer Thomas Burke, who started out with Williams at the city prosecutor’s office in 1992, formally joined the case Friday. He said there’s no evidence that Williams sold his office.

Williams, 50, is accused of taking more than $100,000 in cash and gifts from two businessmen in exchange for favors. The two-term Democrat has said he got into financial problems after a costly divorce.

“Not one single case has been compromised,” Burke said. “I don’t think there’s any meeting of the minds. Whatever Business Owner 1 and 2 (in the indictment) thought, that may have been in their minds, it was never in Williams’ mind.”

Williams is charged with promising to help a businessman’s brother seek a California liquor license despite a felony tax conviction and to help a second businessman, who made frequent trips to the Middle East, bypass secondary screening at Philadelphia International Airport. Williams accepted lavish Caribbean trips, a used Jaguar, a custom $3,400 couch and other gifts from them, the indictment said.

He is also charged with misspending $20,000 meant for his mother’s nursing home care.

Williams has belatedly filed financial disclosure reports that show he accepted $175,000 worth of cash and gifts while in office. However, not all of those are linked by the prosecution to the bribery and extortion case.

The city stopped paying Williams’ prior defense lawyer, former federal prosecutor John Pease, once Williams was indicted.

Williams, the city’s first black district attorney, remains in the $175,000-a-year job. During his tenure, he helped create special courts to handle drug, veterans and prostitution cases, and was the first prosecutor in the country to arrest a church official over the handling of priest-abuse complaints.

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