By Peter Szekely
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. authorities on Tuesday charged Philadelphia's top prosecutor with accepting bribes, including a Caribbean vacation, furniture, a car and cash, in exchange for favors.
In a 23-count indictment, a federal grand jury outlined a pattern of illegal behavior by District Attorney Seth Williams since 2010, shortly after he was elected to the first of his two four-year terms.
"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," acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick said in a statement.
The indictment accuses Williams, whose annual salary is about $170,000, of receiving more than $54,000 from bribes and fraud, which the grand jury ordered him to forfeit. His arraignment is set for Wednesday afternoon.
Williams' attorney, Michael Diamondstein, declined to address the charges specifically. "However, on Mr. Williams behalf, he vehemently denies that he ever compromised any investigation, case or law enforcement function," Diamondstein added.
Williams is accused of soliciting bribes from two unidentified business owners between July 2010 and July 2015 that included a sofa, cash, clothing and a trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
In exchange, he sought to help the business owner avoid a layer of airport screening on his return from foreign travel, although no security measures ended up being compromised, Fitzpatrick said.
The indictment contained a text message exchange between Williams and the business owner in which he agreed to take steps to ease the terms of a plea bargain for an associate of the owner. It alleged that Williams kept the retirement payments of a relative that were intended for nursing home costs and defrauded friends who gave him $10,000 to cover the expense.
"Instead of using this money as intended, he spent the entire amount for his own personal benefit," Internal Revenue Service acting Special Agent in Charge Greg Floyd said.
Williams, 50, agreed two months ago to pay $62,000 in civil penalties to end an investigation by the Philadelphia ethics board into his failure to disclose gifts including NBA basketball tickets, cash and lodging. It was the largest penalty the board imposed in its 10-year history.
Last month, Williams announced he would not seek a third term this year, saying he made "regrettable mistakes" in accepting the gifts.
Williams, a Democrat, is the first African-American elected as a district attorney in Pennsylvania.
(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)