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Philadelphia DA set for bribery trial 2 months after arrest

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia’s top prosecutor intends to rush federal prosecutors to trial in a 23-count bribery case just two months after his arrest.

Lawyers for District Attorney Seth Williams tell a judge they’ll be ready for the initial May 31 trial date, a bold move that followed the Justice Department’s unsuccessful bid for a trial delay. Judges routinely grant such delays early on in public corruption cases, but U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond said last month the city needs the case resolved quickly.

“I am hard-pressed to think of a case where the public’s right to a speedy trial is more pressing than it is here: the largest prosecutors’ office in the commonwealth is being run by someone who is not licensed to practice law and is himself charged with 23 federal crimes,” Diamond wrote. “(The charges) have an obvious and possibly calamitous effect on the city’s criminal justice system.”

The quick trial date will apparently hold unless prosecutors — who continue to investigate Williams’ financial dealings — file an expanded indictment.

Williams, a two-term Democrat, is charged with taking more than $100,000 in cash, trips and luxury gifts from several businessmen as he struggled financially after a divorce. He has belatedly acknowledged taking more than $175,000 in gifts but insists he never promised any legal favors in return. Prosecutors say he agreed to help two bar owners resolve a liquor license problem and help a businessman who made frequent trips to the Mideast clear security at Philadelphia International Airport.

Williams’ lawyers declined to seek a defense delay by Friday’s deadline, instead telling the judge they’ll be ready.

Prosecutors have turned over nearly 150,000 documents, and are combing through several years’ worth of Williams’ emails, with an eye to the luxe lifestyle they say the gifts afforded him. Their search terms, according to court filings, include “Jaguar,” ”Burberry,” ”Punta Cana,” ”Key West” and “flight arrangements,” along with the “Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board” and “Homeland Security.”

Williams, 50, was indicted on March 22. He remains in the $175,000-a-year job, but his law license has been suspended and he is not seeking a third term. Seven Democrats and a Republican are jostling to succeed him in the wide-open May 16 primary.

The office has 600 lawyers, detectives and support staff who handle 75,000 criminal cases a year in the city of 1.5 million people.

Williams, who is also charged with defrauding his elderly mother of $20,000, recently put his $450,000 home up for sale. The listing describes a new roof Williams admits having installed by one benefactor and shows off what looks like the $3,200 custom “chocolate” couch bestowed, according to the indictment, by another.

His defense lawyer did not return messages Monday seeking comment on the trial date.

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