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February 10, 2017

Seth Williams will not run for third term as Philadelphia district attorney

Democrat recently was fined $62,000 by ethics board for not disclosing gifts and income

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams will not run for re-election to a third term as the city's top prosecutor, he said Friday.

Williams made the announcement at a press conference, saying he had made "regrettable mistakes" that "cast an unnecessary shadow over the D.A.'s office." He said not seeking re-election was in the "best interest" of the district attorney's office and his family. 

Williams, 50, said he will fulfill the duration of his second term, which expires at the end of the year.

RELATED: FOP's McNesby says Williams' decision not to run for re-election 'will restore a little bit of integrity' to D.A.'s office 

The announcement comes about three weeks after the city's Board of Ethics fined Williams $62,000 — the largest penalty imposed in the board's history — for failing to disclose gifts and sources of income. Those gifts, totaling more than $160,000, included a $45,000 roof repair, $20,800 in free airfare and lodging, and as much as $10,000 in cash gifts.

"My decision to accept gifts and fail to report them brought much embarrassment, shame and adverse publicity to me and, unfortunately, to the office to which I belonged," Williams said. "For this, I will always hold deep regret in my heart."

Williams spoke for about 10 minutes and did not take questions afterward.

The FBI also reportedly is investigating Williams' personal and political finances, including those associated with his political action committee, Friends of Seth Williams, and his charity, The Second Chance Foundation.

Williams did not say when he made his decision, which came with short notice. Williams' staff sent out a press release just two hours prior that simply stated he would make an "important announcement."

But Williams said he realized he had become a distraction at a press conference held Wednesday to discuss the Conviction Review Unit. Instead of questions about its enhancement, the first inquiries were about his gifts.

"My poor judgment caused distractions which made the already difficult job of my assistants and staff even more challenging, and raised doubts in the minds of some citizens regarding my character and fitness to serve as your district attorney," Williams said.

He offered an apology for his failure to report gifts, offering his "deepest and most sincere apologies" to everyone who has served, is serving or will serve the D.A.'s Office.

"There is no way for me to appropriately express my gratitude to the people of Philadelphia who allowed me the privilege of serving them, in so many ways. I will spend the balance of my term, trying to regain their trust — the trust I have lost. I will continue to make this office better than it was when I arrived. That's my goal."

With Williams falling under scrutiny, six challengers have announced they would run for the job, including former state prosecutor Mike Untermeyer, a Democrat who says he has lent his own campaign about $500,000.

The other Democratic challengers include former Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni, civil rights attorney Lawrence Krasner and prosecutors Rich Negrin and Joe Khan. The only Republican challenger is Beth Grossman, a former assistant district attorney.

Williams was elected in 2009 to succeed longtime D.A. Lynne Abraham, who chose not to seek re-election. He became the city's first black district attorney.

In announcing his decision, Williams reflected upon the successes of his tenure, including an increased felony conviction rate and new diversionary programs for marijuana and nonviolent misdemeanor offenders. 

He also spoke of his rise from the city's foster care system to Philly's top prosecutor.

"Only in America is this dream possible," Williams said. "I'm thankful for every opportunity that I have been given."