Newall: No laughing matter from DA Seth Williams
Have you heard the one about our district attorney's new roof? Or his tire-stabbing girlfriend? Or his cigar soirees? You have.
Have you heard the one about our district attorney's new roof? Or his tire-stabbing girlfriend? Or his cigar soirees?
I am done making jokes about our city's top law enforcement officer.
There has, of course, never been anything funny about Williams many misadventures - the $160,050 in unreported gifts from attorneys and campaign contributors, the joint FBI-IRS probe into his personal and political finances.
For sure, there was humor to be mined in the sordid details: that new roof from some donor in Jersey, the Caribbean getaways from campaign contributors, and, yes, even that time his irate girlfriend slashed the tires of his city-owned vehicles.
But all the while Williams was making a joke out of the office he leads - embarrassing prosecutors who battle it out in city courtrooms every day and burdening them with his antics.
And now, for all that unreported swag, our city's top law enforcement officer can add another line on his resume: owner of the biggest fine ever by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics.
Stamp that one on a re-election poster: "First in fines, first in FBI investigations, last in the heart of his girlfriend."
(Sorry, I'm trying to stop.)
The decades-old ethics board, as my colleague Claudia Vargas reported, slapped Williams on Tuesday with a $62,000 penalty for failing to report the gifts and cash and trips - and even some unreported income from a private law firm.
And while it's perfectly legal for Williams to accept the gifts from some people - as long as he reports them - the board noted that five times Williams accepted cash, gift cards and other giveaways from people he definitely should not have: people whose pockets he could line as district attorney.
Like defense attorneys and members of his security unit.
Those gifts were illegal, the board said. Williams must also pay back their value of $2,840.
Williams maintains he never returned any favors. The feds are making sure of that.
Perhaps keeping in mind the financial imbroglios that got Williams in trouble in the first place, the board offered him a payment plan: $2,500 by the end of the year, and then $10,000 a year until the fine is settled.
I mean, what if the district attorney needs a new roof?
(That's it. I'm done.)
Williams issued an apology through a press release. More of the same. He's sorry, not for the gifts, but for failing to disclose them. He will work every day to earn back our trust.
Williams has his hands full already, with four Democrats jumping into challenge him in this spring's open primary. But in a crowded field, anything could happen. Even with all his messes, these federal probes and record-breaking fines, these bad jokes, Seth Williams could win in a crowded field.
And that punch line would be on us.