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January 17, 2017

Ethics board thumps D.A. Seth Williams with its largest penalty ever

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams must pay $62,000 in civil monetary penalties for failing to disclose gifts and source of income, according to a settlement approved Tuesday by the city's Board of Ethics.

The penalty is the largest imposed by the board in its 10-year history.

The settlement also requires Williams to pay the city another $2,840 for accepting gifts prohibited by the city's ethics code.

Williams failed to disclose five sources of income and 89 gifts on six city statements of financial interest he filed from 2010 to 2015. He also omitted three additional sources of income and seven other gifts when he amended those statements last year.

Williams, who cooperated with the investigation, apologized in a statement issued by his campaign spokesman, Dan Fee.

"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. "It was wrong to fail to fully and accurately disclose the payments and gifts I received. ... I will work every day to earn back the trust and respect of all of you."

City officials must annually disclose any person who gave him or her gifts worth at least $200 during the previous year and any source of income totaling at least $500.

In his six statements filed between 2010 and 2015, Williams declared that he did not receive any reportable gifts. But last July, his attorney notified the ethics board that Williams had omitted numerous items, prompting an investigation by the board. 

The board found that Williams received 20 gifts from individuals who had a financial interest that Williams could affect as district attorney. They included criminal defense attorneys and subordinate employees and contractors at the District Attorney's Office.

The city amended its ethics code in 2014 to prohibit officers from accepting any monetary gifts and non-monetary gifts worth more than $99 from people seeking official action or holding a financial interest that the officer could impact.

Williams accepted five such gifts in 2014 and 2015, including a $750 Visa gift card and $690 in Phillies and 76ers tickets from Scott DiClaudio, a criminal defense attorney. 

Williams also accepted $1,000 in lodging from another defense attorney, Richard Hoy, and a pair of $200 cash gifts from subordinate employees.

The settlement requires Williams to pay his penalty by Dec. 31, 2022. He must pay at least $2,500 by the end of the year and at least $10,000 in each subsequent calendar year.

Williams also must file amended statements reflecting the 10 additional items uncovered by the board's investigation.

Williams is up for re-election later this year.