Michael Weiss — co-owner of the iconic Center City gay bar, Woody's — paid for Seth Williams' airfare for vacations in Key West, Fla., San Diego, and Las Vegas. He once lent him $1,300. And when the Philadelphia district attorney's girlfriend needed a car, Weiss gave her his old Jaguar convertible.
But when asked Monday by federal prosecutors for an explanation of that generosity — and whether there was an ulterior motive — the bar owner had only a shrug to offer.
"In part," he replied while testifying on the fifth day of Williams' corruption trial.
Weiss' testimony led off the second week of the government's bribery case and made him the second wealthy benefactor to tell the jury that he showered the city's top prosecutor with gifts hoping to solicit favors from him in return.
But unlike the first of the district attorney's patrons to take the witness stand – Bucks County businessman Mohammad N. Ali, who testified last week that he cozied up to Williams in anticipation of help he might one day need – Weiss' reluctance to appear in court Monday was palpable.
He spent his more than three hours on the witness stand speaking laconically, his words punctuated by long pauses as he collected his thoughts — silences that prompted his lawyer, Thomas Bergstrom, to joke at the end of the day, "You could have eaten lunch in the gap between those questions and your answers."
U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond had to compel Weiss' testimony last week, and Weiss agreed to discuss his relationship with the district attorney only under a grant of immunity. He had faced indictment in an unrelated 2010 tax case that resulted in a sentence of three years' probation, and appeared wary of landing on the wrong side of the law again.
Ali, on the other hand, left a lingering impression. The Lamborghini-driving, fast-living playboy who made millions selling energy drinks and prepaid cellphone cards had jurors captivated during his two days of testimony about paying Williams' way in 2012 to a luxury Dominican Republic resort.
Subsequent testimony Monday from the Philadelphia Police Department's top homeland security official, Deputy Commissioner Joe Sullivan, also kept them enthralled as he described how uncomfortable he felt after Williams asked him to help Ali avoid secondary security screening at Philadelphia International Airport on that and other trips.
Ali didn't hesitate to describe Williams as one of his "closest friends."
Weiss offered no such endorsement. He said they met at a cigar bar in 2009 and he soon after began donating to Williams' campaigns.
"We got along," he said. "We had become friends, hung out together, and did things together."
Despite the reluctance Weiss showed Monday, Williams, at least in their correspondence, approached the bar owner with an almost childlike enthusiasm.
In years' worth of letters and text messages shown to jurors, the district attorney addressed Weiss as "Superfriend" – a moniker the bar owner was at a loss to explain when asked about it in court. And Williams exhibited little hesitation in asking Weiss to cover his bills.
"Can you help me with flight arrangements?" he asked Weiss in a February 2013 text sent while he planned his daughters' spring break vacation in Key West. "And not to be greedy. but maybe we can all go to your place in San Diego before you sell it."
Months later, Williams texted again. "Dude," he wrote. "I never want to feel like a drag on your wallet, … but we are always ready for an adventure."
Weiss said Monday he understood from both requests that he would be paying for the Williams family's trips.
The long correspondence revealed that Weiss wasn't shy about asking the district attorney for favors either.
When he needed a character letter to persuade a judge in 2013 to end his federal probation early, he turned to Williams.
When he needed another to persuade the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control not to yank the license for a bar he owned in San Diego, the district attorney was again happy to comply.
In both cases, Weiss testified, he drafted the letters himself. Williams just signed his name.
Defense lawyer Thomas R. Burke is likely to focus on that when he gets the chance Tuesday to cross-examine Weiss. In questioning Ali last week, Burke characterized the gifts the businessman gave the district attorney as byproducts of a long personal friendship. He suggested that while Williams often promised to help Ali with his legal woes, he often failed to deliver.
Prosecutors sought to preempt that attack Monday in questioning Weiss. Asked what he thought Williams meant in an August 2013 text thanking him for "all you've done," the bar owner responded with a shrug.
"Thanks for being a friend, hanging out and that sort of thing?" he said, an answer that left Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Moran incredulous.
Moran shot back: "At this point, there have been three trips that you paid for him to go on and the Jaguar, and then you say, 'Thank you also.' What did that mean?"
Again, Weiss shrugged.
"I always say that," he said.