Mohammad N. Ali – Seth Williams' jet-setting, Bentley-driving, energy-drink-peddling benefactor – was sentenced to 18 months in prison Thursday for bribes he paid Philadelphia's former district attorney in exchange for assistance with his legal woes.
But if the man whose testimony helped cement the case against Williams was looking for any sympathy from U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond, he left grossly disappointed.
"I don't know what to say. I'm sorry for what I did," the soft-spoken Ali said when it was his turn to address the judge.
Diamond snapped back with an apology of his own: "I'm sorry, sir, I don't believe you. I think you're sorry you got caught."
And when Ali, citing a seriously ill child, asked that Diamond give him 45 days to turn himself in, the judge ordered that he be taken away in handcuffs instead.
That might have been expected from a judge who – in a surprise turn last summer — ordered Williams imprisoned immediately after he pleaded guilty to charges including bribery and honest services fraud.
But Ali's wife, seated in the courtroom's front row, gasped and began weeping.
Her husband rushed to her side as soon as the judge left the bench, only to have court marshals later interrupt their embrace. He hurriedly stripped himself of his belt, watch, and wallet to hand to his wife.
Prosecutors had pushed to get Ali a break, although they insisted that he should serve some time in prison.
"Clearly, Mr. Ali's cooperation was in his own self-interest," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Vineet Gauri. "But the information and testimony that he provided in a significant public corruption case was vital here."
And Ali's lawyer, Mark Cedrone, said he hoped that cooperation would buy Ali leniency – although he was careful to note that he was not seeking to "diminish the seriousness of bribing a public official."
Diamond had an answer for that, too, interrupting the defense lawyer to say:
"[It was] not just any public official. He didn't bribe the register of wills."
Throughout Williams' trial, Ali, 41, of Feasterville, emerged as one of its more colorful characters.
A slickly dressed Jordanian native who made millions selling prepaid cellphone cards and energy drinks, he testified during those proceedings last summer that he kept a framed picture of Williams on his desk — one of the few photos in his office.
And prosecutors showed videos of the two cavorting beachside in T-shirts and floral-print swim trunks during a 2012 couples trip they took to the Caribbean with their respective partners.
But despite sharing what appeared to be an authentic bromance, their relationship lay at the heart of the charges that Williams faced.
Ali had admitted that he showered the district attorney with gifts including designer accessories, pricey dinners, and an all-expenses-paid trip to a luxury resort in the Dominican Republic.
In exchange, he routinely called on Williams for aid when faced with legal problems, such as the persistent secondary screenings he endured nearly every time he returned to Philadelphia International Airport from overseas trips.
At Ali's request, Williams offered to use his position to help his friend avoid those security efforts. Neither man knew it at the time, but federal agents had flagged Ali for special attention while they investigated him in an international money-laundering probe, which never resulted in charges.
Ali, while pleading guilty to bribery and tax fraud charges last year, also admitted that he asked Williams in 2012 to intervene in a criminal case filed against a nightclub DJ with whom he was friendly.
Often, though, the relationship between Ali and Williams appeared to be one-sided. Ali paid for everything and Williams rarely followed through on his promises to his friend.
"Mr. Ali was almost a victim of Mr. Williams," Cedrone said Thursday. "He did almost nothing for him."
Diamond was disinclined to see it that way
"Corrupt public officials like Mr. Williams can't accept bribes from corrupt individuals like Mr. Ali unless Mr. Ali offers the bribe," he said
, as he handed down his sentence. "It's a symbiotic criminal relationship, and I believe that others in this town need to be deterred from seeking to corrupt the officials who are elected to serve us."
In addition to his prison term, Ali also was ordered to serve three years' probation upon his release and to pay more than $163,400 in fines and restitution.