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AG Shapiro announces charges against Bedford County district attorney

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced criminal charges against the Bedford County District Attorney for protecting known drug dealers from criminal prosecution, revealing the identities of confidential informants to individuals under active investigation by law enforcement and offering favorable treatment to women with whom he was having sexual relations.

Following charging recommendations from a Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, William Higgins, 43, of South Bedford Street, Bedford, was charged this morning with 11 counts of obstructing administration of law or other governmental function, two counts of official oppression, three counts of recklessly endangering another person, nine counts of intimidation of witnesses or victims and six counts of hindering apprehension or prosecution.

“District Attorney Higgins traded his power and law enforcement authority for sexual favors and violated his oath to the people of Bedford County – compromising the security of his community and the safety of confidential informants,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said today at a press conference with law enforcement at the Bedford County Courthouse. “Higgins’ conduct and manipulation of these women was a complete betrayal of the trust of the good citizens of Bedford County – who elected him to enforce the law and keep them safe. Today, with our partners in the Pennsylvania State Police, we are ending this culture and working to restore trust in the Bedford County District Attorney’s Office.”

Attorney General Shapiro discussed the several themes uncovered by the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury which his prosecutors worked with on this case over the past several years:

  • District Attorney Higgins offered favorable treatment – like lighter sentences and reduced bail amounts – to women with whom he was having sexual relations.
    In 2016, one female drug dealer was arrested for driving under the influence in Somerset County. At the time of her arrest, she was still on probation for a burglary conviction. Higgins called her probation officer’s supervisor and requested that no violation of probation be issued, advising the case against the female was “weak” and would not be prosecuted. The Somerset District Attorney later established that she did not provide this information to Higgins.
  • District Attorney Higgins protected known drug dealers from criminal prosecution.
    In one instance in June 2015, Pennsylvania State Police attempted to obtain a search warrant for the house of a female drug dealer in Bedford County. Higgins refused to approve the search warrant, even though two separate eyewitnesses reported a large amount of heroin and cocaine at the drug dealer’s residence. He reportedly later told her that he “saved her ass.” The female related this incident during her testimony before the Grand Jury, when she also confirmed an intimate relationship with Higgins.
  • District Attorney Higgins revealed the identities of confidential informants to individuals under active investigation by law enforcement.
    During the course of the probe, investigators learned of at least nine instances during which Higgins provided the names of confidential informants to known drug dealers – putting the lives of those informants and law enforcement officers in serious risk. In one telling occurrence in August 2015, Higgins revealed the identity of a confidential informant to a female drug dealer. She later declined to sell drugs to the informant. When she testified before the Grand Jury, she relayed she did not make the sale because Higgins verified that the person attempting to purchase drugs was a confidential informant.
  • District Attorney Higgins requested that the three main cooperating witnesses in the case not speak with investigators and conceal their relationship with him to law enforcement.
    One female drug dealer contacted Higgins after receiving a Grand Jury subpoena. Higgins advised her to deny – under oath – the existence of a sexual relationship between Higgins and her.

“The charges announced today are the culmination of years of tireless police work conducted by dedicated state police investigators, in cooperation with our law enforcement partners,” said Major Douglas Burig, director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation. “What was uncovered is a disturbing pattern of criminal activity that put police, witnesses, and the community at risk. Today marks the next step toward seeking justice for the victims and restoring public trust in the office of the Bedford County District Attorney.”

Higgins turned himself in this morning without incident and waived his preliminary hearing. As a result of the charges, Higgins resigned his official office. First Assistant District Attorney Leslie Childers-Potts will be acting Bedford District Attorney until a special election can be held to fill the role.

“These arrests are the result of collaboration with our partners in the Pennsylvania State Police and the effective use of the Statewide Investigating Grand Jury,” Attorney General Shapiro said at the press conference. “As Attorney General, I will not allow individuals in power to abuse their public office. I am focused on rooting out public corruption and will continue to prosecute anyone who breaks the law – without fear and without favor.”

Higgins was arraigned on the charges this morning. Bail was set at $50,000 unsecured. The case will be prosecuted by Senior Deputy Attorney General Tomm Mutschler.

The investigation is ongoing. Anyone who has experienced or witnessed similar behavior by District Attorney Higgins is encouraged to come forward by calling this special hotline number: 724-332-7252.

Source: Office of Attorney General