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A former Pennsylvania district attorney charged with thwarting drug investigations and taking it easy on female dealers in exchange for sex pleaded guilty Wednesday to corruption charges, accepting a plea deal that will keep him out of prison.

Former Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins pleaded guilty to all 31 misdemeanor counts he faced, including official oppression and obstructing the administration of law, according to Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Under a plea agreement, Higgins will spend no time behind bars. He will lose the bulk of his state and county government pensions and is expected to lose his law license under a separate disciplinary proceeding.

Higgins, a Republican, had faced a potentially lengthy prison sentence, and it wasn’t immediately clear why the state’s top prosecutor offered him a deal that allows him to remain free. Shapiro’s office did not mention the terms of the plea agreement in a news release, nor did Shapiro mention it in a videotaped statement.

“The offer that was made by the commonwealth was an offer he felt he couldn’t refuse,” said Higgins’ attorney, Steven Passarello.

Higgins resigned in early April after the charges were filed, saying in a statement that he’d been accused of conduct “unbecoming of a district attorney” and “unbecoming of a husband and father.”

One woman performed oral sex on Higgins about a month after he told a state trooper not to charge her with drug delivery, according to a police affidavit. Higgins also revealed the names of confidential informants to drug dealers with whom he was having sex, or to their friends and associates, authorities said.

“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,” Shapiro said.

Other law enforcement officials convicted of abusing their positions have been dealt with far more harshly.

Former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, a Democrat, was sentenced to five years in federal prison for accepting a bribe.

Former Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, was sentenced to 10 to 23 months in prison after her conviction for unlawfully leaking grand jury materials in a political payback scheme and lying about it under oath. She remains free during appeals.

Shapiro’s spokesman, Joe Grace, said Higgins’ guilty plea was secured “based on the evidence in Higgins’ case and in consultation with victims.” He did not elaborate, but said the plea “ensures he will never again be in a position to corrupt our legal system or harm the good people of Bedford County.”

Higgins, 43, was sworn into office in 2004 as the state’s youngest district attorney.

He will be sentenced in August.


This story has been corrected to show that Higgins pleaded guilty to 31 counts, not 11.