Before being rushed away from the mob of news media in a swanky car, Mr. Michael Diamondstein, a criminal defense attorney hired by Philadelphia District Attorney Mr. Seth Williams to represent him at Wednesday afternoon’s arraignment, said the rush to judge his high-profile client, who has already admitted to accepting more than $100,000.00 in unreported gifts, must stop.
“This indictment is twenty four hours old and yet too many politicians and commentators have already tried and convicted Seth Williams in the media.”
In the indictment are text messages alleged to be sent by Mr. Williams to two Philadelphia business owners – one who was identified by the Philadelphia Gay News as Mr. Michael Weiss, owner of Woody’s Bar –wherein he asked for and received gifts in return for official action: Mr. Weiss, who gifted Mr. Williams a luxury convertible among other lavish items, was made a special adviser to the DA’s office.
I pushed Mr. Diamondstein to address the text messages, which the federal government said has great evidentiary value, yet I received no comment.
Mr. Williams, who decided not to seek re-election because of how much of a controversy had been made out of his malfeasance, today relinquished his passport, signed a $50,000.00 bond, and pleaded not guilty to 23-counts of fraud, extortion and bribery. For a man facing such serious charges, his body language in the courtroom suggested confidence.
“Seth Williams categorically denies that he is guilty of any crime,” Mr. Diamondstein said.
On Tuesday afternoon, when the indictment was announced, acting U.S. Attorney of New Jersey Mr. William Fitzpatrick told me they only indict when a case can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Representatives of the federal government haven’t spoken about much beyond what’s printed in the husky indictment, which makes the case that Mr. Williams, soon after being elected to the District Attorney’s office in 2010, turned it into a pay-to-play organization.
“The indictment alleges that as District Attorney, Mr. Williams compromised himself and his elected office by standing ready to help those who were willing to pay him with money, trips, and cars,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said in a statement.
Calls for Mr. Williams – a Democrat that many Philadelphians believe would leave behind rich legacy as the City’s first African-American District Attorney – to resign have already begun, and the Mayor of Philadelphia, who had been calculated with his words when discussing the controversy in the DA’s office, is among those voices, as is Mr. Larry Krasner, a candidate hoping to succeed Mr. Williams in January of 2017, and the Philadelphia Bar Chancellor Deborah R. Gross.
“It is imperative that DA Williams resign from his position immediately to maintain the integrity of, and restore the public’s confidence in, our justice system,” Ms. Gross said in a statement released Wednesday morning.
Assistant United States Attorney (Eastern District of Pennsylvania) Mr. Robert Zauzmer today was asked whether Mr. Williams could maintain his job while battling the indictment, though he opted not to provide commentary.
Mr. Williams’ travel has been restricted: no where beyond the Eastern District of Pennsylvania unless he gives notice to pre-trial services.
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Photo courtesy of the author.