Higgins pleads guilty to all charges
Judge says it will take years to regain people’s trust
BEDFORD — Former Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins pleaded guilty Wednesday to all charges accusing him of exchanging sexual favors for lenient sentences of female drug dealers and compromising the identities of numerous undercover informants, among other allegations.
He faced 31 misdemeanor charges, including 11 counts of obstruction of law, two counts of official oppression, three counts of recklessly endangering another person, nine counts of intimidation of a witness and six counts of hindering prosecution.
Higgins, 43, gave his “sincerest apologies” during his arraignment in front of President Judge Thomas Ling and a courtroom about two-thirds full.
“I want to apologize to the court and the people of Bedford County,” Higgins said in court.
Ling acknowledged the apology but said Higgins has done “tremendous harm” and “eroded” the court system when he abandoned his duties as an elected official.
“Former District Attorney Higgins traded his power and law enforcement authority for sexual favors, and he 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 in a release. “As attorney general, I will not allow any person 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.”
Ling added he has never dealt with a case with this level of implications to the system and said it will take years to gain the people’s trust back.
The “firm” plea bargain guarantees no incarceration and no filing of felony charges against Higgins. But supervision and fines are open and up to the court’s discretion, said Steven Passarello, Higgin’s attorney.
A presentencing investigation by the probation office will take place prior to the August sentencing.
Passarello said Higgins pleaded guilty against the advice of legal counsel and that his client desires to not continue putting the county and his family through this ordeal. He added the commonwealth gave Higgins an offer that he felt he couldn’t refuse.
“His plea of guilty was against my legal advice based upon the facts as I knew them to be at the time and in light of recent developments of certain commonwealth witnesses in this case,” Passarello said. “However, his goal is to put his family back together and not put his family and Bedford County through any more of this circus.”
Elaborating on recent developments, Passarello said one of the main witnesses, who was a fugitive, was recently arrested and captured.
“From a purely legal standpoint, I believe and I still believe that this was an extremely defensible case,” Passarello said. “However, I understand it is my client’s decision alone as to whether to plead guilty or move forward with the trial.”
If Higgins had been convicted at trial, he would’ve potentially faced a maximum of 62 years in prison and $155,000 in fines. Passarello said they would be arguing for “straight probation.”
The state of Higgins’ law license is up to the disciplinary board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a decision that will most likely be made after the sentencing.
For 14 years, Higgins served as district attorney. On Wednesday, he sat on the opposite side of the courtroom with his head resting against his folded hands prior to his arraignment.
The allegations against Higgins came to the public’s attention in early April, pushing him to resign from the district attorney position the same day. Lesley Childers-Potts, then the first assistant district attorney, took over as district attorney.
During her transition to the DA role, Childers-Potts fired three office staff members mid-April. She has filled most of the positions and is still looking for a county detective.
Higgins’ sentencing hearing will be at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 24 in Courtroom 2 at the Bedford County Courthouse.
Mirror Staff Writer Shen Wu Tan is at 946-7457.