He also handed over his passport, according to reports.
His plea comes a day after his indictment by a federal grand jury on charges related to what officials described as a five-year corruption spree that included accepting tens of thousands of dollars in concealed bribes, a trip to the Dominican Republic and a 1997 Jaguar.
The charges against Williams, 50, a Democrat, also included confiscating $20,000 money intended for a relative's nursing home care and using the funds to pay for his mortgate and electricity, according to official documents and the Philadelphia Inquirer. The news organization identified the relative as Williams' mother, Imelda Williams.
Williams' lawyer, Michael Diamondstein, spoke to reporters outside of court Wednesday and urged the public not to rush to judgment about his client.
"Seth Williams categorically denies ... that he's guilty of any crime," Diamondstein said. "This indictment is 24-hours old and yet too many politicians and commentators have already tried and convicted Seth Williams in the media. Simply because the government makes explosive allegations in a complaint doesn’t mean they’re going to be proven in a court of law."
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who expressed disappointment over the developments, asked Williams to resign, the mayor's office confirmed Wednesday night.
The evidence surfaced in part via text messages in which Williams offers himself up to two business owners for assistance.
The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania recused his office from the investigation.
The formal charges announced Tuesday by acting New Jersey U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick, who is overseeing the case, include bribery, extortion, honest services wire fraud, and also defrauding a nursing home and family friends by taking the funds earmarked for the relative's nursing home fees. Honest services fraud is when a public official denies someone his or her intangible right to honest services.
"The indictment alleges that as District Attorney, Mr. Williams compromised himself and his elected office by standing ready to help those who were willing to pay him with money, trips and cars," Fitzpatrick said in a statement. "Mr. Williams' alleged willingness to compromise his position of public trust in exchange for private financial gain is all the more unfortunate given that he was elected to protect the interests of the people of Philadelphia as their chief law enforcement officer."
Williams' office requested privacy on the matter.
"The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office does not have any comment at this time," the office said in an e-mail to USA TODAY. "The DA is not in the office today because he is spending time with his family. I ask that you respect his privacy and the privacy of the men and women of the office so all of us can continue to do our jobs without the distraction of additional media attention."
Williams' lawyer, identified by the Inquirer as Michael Diamondstein, told the news organization his client would fight the charges. Sources told the Inquirer that Williams rejected a plea deal earlier this week.
"Mr. Williams vehemently denies that he ever compromised any investigation, case, or law enforcement function," Diamondstein told the Inquirer.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Harpster in a statement called the alleged misconduct "brazen and wide-ranging."
Kenney, the mayor, condemned the alleged behavior.
"It is deeply shameful that the city’s chief law enforcement officer has been implicated in such a flagrant violation of the law," Kenney said in a statement. "At a time when our citizens’ trust in government is at an all-time low, it is disheartening to see yet another elected official give the public a reason not to trust us. That this comes at the head of our justice system is even more troubling. We must all greatly raise the bar for our behavior and show the citizens of Philadelphia that we are capable of carrying out our most basic responsibilities as elected officials, upholding the law.”
The indictment comes during a period of alleged corruption and misspending in Philadelphia. The city controller has charged that a former aide to former Mayor Michael Nutter used a non-profit that operated under the mayor as a "slush fund" for the mayor's office. In December, former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, a Democrat from Philadelphia, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on federal racketeering and bribery charges.
Williams took office in 2010, with much hoopla made over the fact that he was the first black district attorney in Philadelphia and the entire commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In his younger years, he showed much promise. At Penn State, he was president of the Undergraduate Student Government and the Student Black Caucus. He graduated from Georgetown University's law school as a Public Interest Law Scholar.
As an assistant district attorney for a decade with the city of Philadelphia, he launched and led a Repeat Offenders Unit. He was elected district attorney in 2009, attracting more then 75% of the vote. In 2011, his office brought charges against an abortionist who allegedly killed infants who survived the procedure and the abortionist was convicted and sentenced to life.
But things turned for Williams. In 2015, he was criticized for not going after prosecutors who were found to be sharing pornographic and racially derogatory e-mails on government computers. Last year, his a woman identified in the Philadelphia media as his girlfriend turned was sentenced to probation for slashing his tires in 2015. In January, Philadelphia's Board of Ethics fined him $62,000 for failing to disclose $160,000 in gifts. And last month, he announced he would not seek a third term as district attorney because he had "cast an unnecessary shadow" over his office.
The alleged misconduct cited in Tuesday's indictment took place from 2010 to 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Williams also attempted to conceal the bribes and gifts by filing misleading personal financial statements from 2012 through 2015, the Department of Justice said.
With one of the business owners, Williams accepted a vacation to the Dominican Republic, a custom sofa, a $502 dinner at a Philadelphia restaurant, a $7,000 check, $2,000 in cash, an iPad, Burberry watch and a Burberry purse for his girlfriend, according to the indictment. In return, the district attorney agreed to help the business owner with security screenings when he returned from foreign travel, and asked a police official to help the business owner avoid a screening.
Williams also agreed to help with an associate of the business owner with criminal charges. The business owner texted Williams that the associate would "take any punishment" but "just doesn't wanna do jail," according to the indictment. Williams responded, "I will look into it." Williams then asked about a second future trip to the Dominican Republic to be paid for by the business owner and texted, "I am merely a thankful beggar and don't want to overstep my bounds in asking ... but we will gladly go."
With another business owner, the owner of a bar, Williams accepted 16 round-trip airline tickets to Florida, San Diego, Calif., and Las Vegas for himself, his girlfriend and family members, the indictment alleges. He also asked for and accepted a 1997 Jaguar XK8 and at least $900 in cash, according to the indictment.
In exchange, Williams appointed the bar owner as a special advisor to his office, even though the bar owner was on federal probation resulting from a 2010 federal tax conviction, the indictment said.
Williams also sent a letter to California officials attempting to influence a hearing to revoke or suspend the bar owner's California liquor license.
Williams sent texts to the bar owner that read, "I wish I could help more," "Can I be a celebrity greeter or celebrity bartender to work off my debt ... ?" and "I was serious about just doing whatever I can to help you guys," according to the indictment.
Regarding the nursing home funds, the indictment alleges that Williams diverted pension and Social Security payments intended for one of his family members to pay for his own personal expenses. The funds were to pay for the relative's nursing home costs and Williams was under an agreement with the nursing home to make the payments. Williams also lied and told a nursing home employee that his family member spent the money, according to the indictment. In addition, Williams accepted $10,000 from friends of his relative to cover nursing home expenses and spent the money on himself, the indictment alleges.
The relative was Williams' mother and he used the funds to pay his mortgage and electricity bills, according to the Inquirer.
Williams is expected to surrender and be arraigned Wednesday afternoon, the Inquirer reported.
Also working on the case are the FBI, IRS and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Two prosecutors from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania will work on the case under the supervision of prosecutors from New Jersey.
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Philadelphia district attorney pleads not guilty to bribery, corruption charges