R. Seth Williams

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Seth Williams
Born (1967-01-02) January 2, 1967 (age 52)
Alma materGeorgetown University Law Center
Pennsylvania State University
PredecessorLynne Abraham
SuccessorKelley B. Hodge (Interim)
Political partyDemocratic
Criminal statusIncarcerated at Federal Correctional Institution, Morgantown, West Virginia, U.S.
WebsiteOffice of the District Attorney of Philadelphia

Rufus Seth Williams (born January 2, 1967) is a former district attorney of the city of Philadelphia. He began his term January 4, 2010.[1] He formerly served as an assistant district attorney.[2] Williams is the first African-American district attorney in Philadelphia and in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.[1] On March 21, 2017, Williams was indicted on 23 counts of bribery, extortion, and fraud.[3] His trial began June 19, 2017.[4] He resigned and pleaded guilty to one charge on June 29, 2017.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Williams was put up for adoption after his birth. After placement in two foster homes, he was adopted[6] and grew up in West Philadelphia, the only child of Rufus O. Williams, a teacher at Sulzberger Middle School, and his wife, Imelda, a secretary at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.[7]

He attended Friends' Central School, Central High School and Penn State, where he served as President of the Penn State Student Black Caucus, the Undergraduate Student Government, and was member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. As a student activist, he led a 102-mile march to the state capital at Harrisburg to get Penn State to divest from South Africa. He was a parishioner of St. Carthage Roman Catholic Church (now known as St. Cyprian's), and was altar boy of the year at age 14 in 1981. He graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 1992 with distinction as a Public Interest Law Scholar.[2]

Early career[edit]

After graduating from Georgetown, Williams joined the district attorney's office. He served 10 years as an assistant district attorney. In that time, he was appointed assistant chief of the Municipal Court, where he supervised the 30 newest prosecutors. He also created and led the Repeat Offenders Unit with the goal of reducing the high percentage of crimes committed by repeat offenders. His courtroom experience includes 37 jury trials, more than 1,500 bench trials and more than 2,500 felony preliminary hearings.[7]

In 2005, he challenged Lynne Abraham, Philadelphia's longtime incumbent district attorney, in the Democratic primary, but lost with 46% of the vote. Following the election, he was appointed Inspector General of the City of Philadelphia, where he was responsible for investigating allegations of corruption, fraud, waste, abuse and employee misconduct among municipal workers and companies doing business with the city. He left in 2008 to take a position as counsel at Stradley, Ronon, Stevens & Young, a Center City law firm.[7]

District Attorney[edit]

On November 3, 2009, Williams was elected District Attorney of Philadelphia. Winning more than 75% of the vote, he became the first African American district attorney of Philadelphia and in the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He was sworn in January 4, 2010, succeeding Abraham.

In January 2011, Williams' office brought multiple charges through a grand jury against Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell primarily for killing infants after birth.[8] In 2013, Gosnell was convicted of killing three infants who were born alive during abortion procedures[9] and is now serving a life sentence.[10]

In 2011, Williams initiated the prosecution of what became known as the "Billy Doe" case - the prosecution of three priests and a schoolteacher for sexual abuse of an altar boy and student (pseudonym Billy Doe), whose account of the alleged abuse changed so as to call into doubt the veracity of the charges that Williams had brought.[11] According to a Newsweek article by Ralph Cipriano, Williams "has not explained any of the factual discrepancies in Billy's many stories, and why the D.A. would proceed with what Williams described as a 'historic' prosecution of the church with a star witness so lacking in credibility."[11] The Catholic League claimed that the four men had been "railroaded by an ambitious D.A."[12]

In 2015, Williams came under fire for not firing prosecutors who were involved in sharing pornographic, misogynistic, and racially charged emails on Pennsylvania government computers.[13][14][15] The scandal, labeled "Porngate" by the state media, forced Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery to resign.[16] It also forced the suspension of Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin.[17] After considerable backlash, Williams reassigned the prosecutors, but did not fire them.[18]

On February 10, 2017, Williams announced he would not seek re-election of a third term in office due to several political scandals, including failing to disclose $160,500 worth of gifts between 2010 and 2015 as well as an FBI/IRS investigation into his finances.[19] On March 21, he was indicted on 23 Federal corruption counts.[20]


Williams' hiring of the controversial "Porngate" prosecutors, E. Marc Costanzo, Patrick Blessington, and Frank Fina, proved problematic.[21] Fina was permitted by Williams to voluntarily resign in 2016 in order to fulfill a pre-determined plan to start his own private law practice at age 50,[citation needed] but Williams refused to terminate the employments of Costanzo and Blessington despite the urging of many members of City Council.[citation needed]

On March 21, 2017, the US Department of Justice announced that they had indicted Williams on "bribery and extortion charges".[3] Williams was disbarred effective April 13, 2017 by court order.[22]

Williams is accused of accepting bribes, totaling more than $175,000 in undisclosed "gifts,"[4] for which he had already been fined $62,000 by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics.[23] Williams is also accused of having misappropriated more than $20,000 in Social Security and pension income that was intended to pay for his mother's nursing home expenses and using those funds to pay his personal mortgage and utility bills.[24][25]

On June 29, 2017, Williams pleaded guilty to one count of bribery contrary to Pennsylvania law which is punishable up to 5 years in prison with the maximum potential fine of $250,000.[26] The plea agreement was announced during the eighth day of his trial where federal prosecutors outlined their 29-count corruption case against Williams.[27] U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond announced to the court that though the plea agreement convicted Williams of one of the 29 charges he faced, Williams had to admit to the underlining facts of the other 28 charges, including extortion, fraud and bribery.[28] Diamond revoked Williams' bail and remanded him to a federal jail in Philadelphia. On October 24, 2017 he was sentenced to five years[29] and is currently being held in a prison in Morgantown, West Virginia.[30]


In 2010, Williams was awarded an Eisenhower Fellowship.

He has also been selected for the Aspen Institute-Rodel Fellowship Program for Public Leadership. This program is only open to 24 U.S. political leaders - 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans – deemed as "rising stars" in their communities. The two year fellowship is designed to briefly break down partisan barriers and provide officeholders with an opportunity to step back from their daily responsibilities to consider broader questions of good governance.

In October 2011, he received an Alumni Fellow Award from Pennsylvania State University.[31]

Williams was an adjunct professor at Temple and Villanova universities, as well as an advisory board member at Penn State Abington. He is a major in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, United States Army.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Williams resided in Philadelphia with his three daughters.[32] He is a Roman Catholic who regularly attended Mass at St. Cyprian Parish, where he was an altar boy while growing up.[8]


  1. ^ a b Miriam Hill (January 4, 2010). "Seth Williams becomes D.A., makes Philadelphia history". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on January 7, 2010. Retrieved January 5, 2010.
  2. ^ a b "About the D.A." Retrieved January 5, 2010.
  3. ^ a b "Philadelphia District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams Indicted On Bribery And Extortion Charges". Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Philly DA Seth Williams' trial moved to June". Retrieved 9 June 2017.
  5. ^ "Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams pleads guilty in his federal corruption trial". Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  6. ^ Dowd, Maureen, "Avenging Altar Boy", The New York Times, March 15, 2011 (March 16, 2011 p. A31 NY ed). Retrieved 2011-03-16.
  7. ^ a b c d "District Attorney Seth Williams Show". Retrieved February 4, 2010.
  8. ^ a b "Kermit Gosnell's Prosecutor's Unwed Mom Placed Him for Adoption". 18 April 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  9. ^ Dennis, Brady (2013-05-13). "Jury convicts abortion provider Kermit Gosnell of murder". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  10. ^ From Sarah Hoye, CNNUpdated 6:35 AM ET, Wed May 15, 2013 (2013-05-15). "Doctor convicted of murder in abortion case gets life in prison". CNN.com. Retrieved 2016-08-19.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ a b Cipriano, Ralph. "Another Rolling Stone Rape Article Has Major Holes". Newsweek.com. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  12. ^ "FOUR CATHOLIC MEN FRAMED – Catholic League". Catholicleague.org. 2016-07-05. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  13. ^ "Seth Williams has a political target on his back: Porngate - philly-archives". Articles.philly.com. 2015-11-20. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  14. ^ Mathis, Joel (2015-11-18). "Katie McGinty to Seth Williams: Fire "Porngate" Lawyers | News | Philadelphia Magazine". Phillymag.com. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  15. ^ "Porngate morphs into a 'Hot Ghetto Mess' - philly-archives". Articles.philly.com. 2015-12-04. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  16. ^ "Seamus McCaffery's Supreme Court #porngate retirement explained in 5 tweets: Tuesday Morning Coffee | PennLive.com". Blog.pennlive.com. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  17. ^ "Please wait while you are redirected". Mobile.philly.com. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  18. ^ McQuade, Dan (2015-12-04). "Seth Williams Re-Assigns 'Porngate' Prosecutors | News | Philadelphia Magazine". Phillymag.com. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  19. ^ Gambarcorta, David. "The inevitable fall of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams". philly.com. The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
  20. ^ Bidgood, Jess (22 March 2017). "Philadelphia Prosecutor Indicted on Corruption Charges". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  21. ^ ""Pennlive online news"". Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  22. ^ http://www.washingtontimes.com, The Washington Times. "Ex-Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams disbarred". The Washington Times. Retrieved 2018-01-31.
  23. ^ Vargas, Claudia (January 18, 2017). "DA Williams fined $62,000 for ethics violations". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved January 31, 2018.
  24. ^ Craig R. McCoy; Barbara Laker; Wendy Ruderman (March 22, 2017). "DA Seth Williams' prime target — his mother's money, feds say". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved January 31, 2018.
  25. ^ "Prosecutors gain evidence ruling against Philly DA Seth Williams". www.philly.com. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  26. ^ "Philadelphia District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams Pleads Guilty To Federal Bribery Charge". www.justice.gov. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  27. ^ "Philly DA Seth Williams' trial: Day-by-day updates". www.philly.com. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  28. ^ "Philly DA Seth Williams pleads guilty, goes to prison". Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  29. ^ Sasko, Claire (September 14, 2017). "Seth Williams Sentenced to Five Years in Prison". phillymag.com. Retrieved January 31, 2018.
  30. ^ "Former DA Seth Williams Moved To Midwest Federal Prison". 2017-12-04. Retrieved 2018-01-31.
  31. ^ "Penn State University honors alumni fellows | Penn State University". News.psu.edu. 2011-10-11. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  32. ^ Gross, Dan (2011-12-13). "District Attorney Seth Williams, wife Sonita separate". Philly.com. Retrieved 2016-08-19.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Lynne Abraham
District Attorney of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
Larry Krasner