Lawyer blasts case against Philly DA Seth Williams as key government cooperator pleads guilty

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Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams’ lawyer on Thursday called a new set of fraud charges filed against his client this week “laughable” and questioned prosecutors’ motives in seeking to pursue them.

Attorney Thomas Burke said federal authorities had information on Williams’ campaign spending and his use of government vehicles – both of which featured the 29-count superseding indictment filed Tuesday – for years.

“Why didn’t they charge that in the original indictment?” he said. “The only conclusion that I can come to is that they knew they were laughable and unprosecutable … [But] my guess is they’re taking a good look at their original indictment and feel that it’s going to be inadequate.”

Burke’s show of bravado came minutes after his client pleaded not guilty to eight additional counts of mail and wire fraud, stemming from allegations he misspent more than $10,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses including elaborate birthday dinners, massages and facials at the tony Union League and the Sports Club at the Bellevue.

Williams, 50, said nothing as he left the courthouse on Market Street and was shepherded into a waiting car.

His plea came just an hour before one of the key government cooperators against him – Feasterville businessman Mohammad N. Ali – was due in court to plead guilty to bribery and tax evasion charges.

The new charges against Williams come less than a month before his scheduled May 31 bribery and corruption trial.

Prosecutors allege that in addition to defrauding his campaign fund Williams accepted gifts worth thousands of dollars – including trips abroad, a custom-designed couch, and a used Jaguar convertible – from Ali and another wealthy businessman seeking help with their legal woes.

In a separate schemes, they have accused the district attorney of using government cars as his personal fleet of vehicles and draining $20,000 of his mother’s Social Security and pension income to cover his mortgage and electricity bills.

Earlier this week, Burke said that he did not anticipate the new charges delaying the start of his client’s trial later this month. However, Thursday, he reversed course saying that the defense and prosecution would jointly ask for a delay of a few weeks to allow them both to file and argue pretrial motions before the court.

Williams, who is not seeking a re-election in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, has vowed to remain in office through the end of his term this year, despite agreeing to a temporary suspension of his law license while he remains under indictment. 

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