Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams for weeks has declined our request for an on-camera interview to ask him about gifts he received and filed to disclose until recently.
NBC10's Rosemary Connors tracked him down Wednesday at a graduation of Philadelphia's corrections officers where Williams revealed he is cooperating with an ethics probe into more than $160,000 in gifts -- including sports tickets and vacation trips -- he's received since his time in office.[[394491751,C]]
Connors: There are concerns about the fact that there were defense attorneys giving you gifts that had regular business in your office. Can you assure the people of Philadelphia that you were not influenced by those gifts?
Williams: One, I'm very thankful that we're here to celebrate the graduation of correctional officers. That's why we're here today. But first and foremost, I want to say I made a mistake in not reporting gifts from very close friends and very close family. And because of that I sincerely and humbly apologize to the citizens of Philadelphia.
Because the district attorney has absolute discretion to choose which cases to prosecute, to drop or make a deal, some argue that an absolute "no gifts" police would create greater transparency.
Williams: So I want to assure everyone that no one got anything and no one asked anything from me as District Attorney. And I’ve put into place all the ways to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Connors: When you say that this will never happen again does that mean that you are going to adopt a bright line rule -- no gifts period, no gifts from friends moving forward as some of your predecessors have done?
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Williams: Well, you know nothing that I did was illegal…
Connors: I think it’s the view of impropriety or conflict of interest, the perception of it.
Williams: And again, no one asked me for anything, no one got anything for any of these gifts.
While the gifts are not illegal, the late disclosure reported by Williams months, and in some cases years after the gifts were received, is a violation with the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission and the Philadelphia Board of Ethics.
"I'm working with the Ethics Commission, the Ethics Board and I'll pay a penalty, a fine for having not disclosed those gifts, but no one ever asked me for anything, no one very got anything," Williams said.
Both the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission and the Philadelphia Board of Ethics can penalize a public official with fines -- if he or she fails to file the mandatory reports regarding gifts.
The Philadelphia Bar Association, which is calling for a bright line ban on gifts from friends, explained in a statement:
"The benefit of drawing a bright line is to prevent qustions from being raised about the motivations of donor friends and the potential impact of gift giving on those who hold public office."
The bar association is urging the D.A. to support its proposed ban on gifts from friends.[[394344331,C]]