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Owner of iconic gay bar central to case against Philly DA

Michael Weiss (left) and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, outside the Gayborhood landmark Weiss  owns, Woody's Bar, at the start of the city's 2015 Gay Pride day.
Michael Weiss (left) and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, outside the Gayborhood landmark Weiss owns, Woody's Bar, at the start of the city's 2015 Gay Pride day.Read more

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams sent his friend and benefactor Michael Weiss this text in November 2014: "What does your badge say?"

Weiss replied: "District Attorney, Special Advisor."

"Fancy," Williams countered playfully about the official role he had conferred on Weiss, who owns bars in Philadelphia, including Woody's, an iconic gay bar in Center City.

A federal grand jury, in a 23-count indictment of Williams issued Tuesday, said he used his powers as the city's top prosecutor on behalf of Weiss -- referred to as "Business Owner #2" -- in return for about $900 in cash, $9,105 in airline tickets, a used Jaguar JK8 convertible worth $4,160, and a $380 insurance policy on the car.

Weiss declined to comment Wednesday.

His attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, said Weiss testified before the grand jury in late February and expects to testify in court if Williams goes to trial.

"He cooperated fully and provided truthful testimony," Bergstrom said. "He was subpoenaed for a number of documents, which included emails and text messages."

This was not Weiss' first brush with federal law enforcement. The indictment notes that he pleaded guilty in 2010 to "corruptly endeavoring to impede the due administration of the federal tax code" at one of his bars and served three years on probation.

Weiss paid for some of the airline tickets he gave Williams while he was still on probation, according to the indictment.

The text messages Weiss turned over to federal investigators show a friendly relationship.

"Have you flashed your badge lately?" Williams asked in a November 2012 text, referring to one Williams had made for Weiss to identify him as a special adviser to the DA.

Williams had other questions as well. In February 2013, he asked if Weiss could help pay for his family's airfare for a "spring break" in Key West, Fla. He added, "not to be greedy" but also asked to use Weiss' house in San Diego.

In a November 2013 text about a potential trip to Las Vegas, Williams wrote: "Dude… I never want to feel like a drag on your wallet… but we are ALWAYS ready for an adventure."

Weiss also had questions. "Sorry to bother, can I get a letter from your office stating that I am and have been since you appointed me your special advisor?" Weiss texted Williams in May 2013.

The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in June 2013 filed to revoke a liquor license held by Weiss in that state, citing his 2010 federal tax conviction as a crime "involving moral turpitude," the indictment said.

Williams, in June 2014, gave Weiss a letter on stationery from the District Attorney's Office that vouched for Weiss and disputed whether the conviction involved moral turpitude. That letter arrived before a hearing on whether to revoke the license.

The next day, Williams texted Weiss to let him know the best times that year for his family to visit San Diego again.

Bergstrom, Weiss' attorney, said, "The indictment, with respect to that letter, is accurate."

Weiss and his brother, William, are still incorporated in California under the business name "3 Weiss Guys." But the licenses for the two bars they ran in the University Heights section of San Diego were transferred to new owners in 2015.

The indictment said Williams also obtained for Weiss in July 2015 a confidential police report about an automobile accident involving an "associate" of Weiss'.

Williams, in text messages about the report, said he could "get in serious trouble" if he contacted another party in that accident.

"They would claim the fact that I even suggested them to take care of the damage they caused would be me using my position to threaten them," Williams texted Weiss, according to the indictment.

Weiss replied that just getting the report would be enough.

"I wish I could help more," Williams texted Weiss, according to the indictment. "As you know, I hate to let people down."

The Weiss brothers were selected in February as the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage & Tavern Association's members of the month. The association's website says they are Philadelphia natives who moved to the Midwest to run a Toyota car dealership, but returned 16 years ago to open bars with their father, Barney.

Michael and William Weiss bought Woody's in 2007, according to the association, which calls it a "landmark gay spot in Philadelphia."

Michael Weiss is an elected Democratic committeeman in Center City's Eighth Ward, where he serves as treasurer. He also serves on the board of the Second Chance Foundation, a nonprofit Williams founded in 2011. The nonprofit received a federal subpoena in August for financial records but is not mentioned in the indictment.