BEDFORD, Pa. — A Pennsylvania district attorney was accused Wednesday of tipping off female drug dealers and giving them lenient treatment in exchange for sex, resigning as he was charged with dozens of crimes.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a courthouse press conference that Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins manipulated women for sexual favors, calling it a betrayal of the community.
Higgins "thought he was above the law," Shapiro said, "and that he could get away with affording special treatment in exchange for sexual favors. I'm here to remind the good people of Bedford County, and the people of Pennsylvania, that no one is above the law."
Higgins was arraigned early Wednesday on numerous charges, including witness intimidation, official oppression and obstruction. He was released on $50,000 bail.
Higgins' defense attorney, Steven Passarello, said his client maintains his innocence. Passarello raised questions about the credibility of the witnesses against Higgins.
"You have to look at the source of the allegations and you have to look at the credibility of that source," Passarello said. He described Higgins as "devastated."
Shapiro said Higgins disclosed the identity of confidential informants at least nine times.
"District Attorney Higgins was motivated by sex," Shapiro said. "He traded his power and law enforcement authority for sexual favors and violated his oath to the people of Bedford County."
Charging documents say one woman performed oral sex on Higgins about a month after he told a state trooper not to charge her with drug delivery. The police affidavit says another woman claims that after she performed oral sex on Higgins, he told her that her cousin could thank her for not getting arrested.
Higgins issued a written statement that said he was accused of conduct "unbecoming of a district attorney" and "unbecoming of a husband and father."
"Unfortunately, for legal reasons, I cannot comment on the validity of these accusations at this time," Higgins wrote. "I have faith in the criminal justice process that I have been part of for my entire legal career."
Passarello said Higgins quit as district attorney because he concluded he would not be able to perform his job because of the allegations. The 43-year-old Republican was sworn into office in 2004 as the state's youngest district attorney.
Shapiro said the state police probe into Higgins began in 2015 as a drug investigation and involved an investigative grand jury.
Higgins disclosed the names of confidential informants to female drug dealers with whom he was having sex or to their friends and associates, Shapiro said.
He alleged that Higgins told a woman he refused to sign a search warrant for her home, told a drug dealer that a person trying to buy drugs from her was an informant and encouraged a female drug dealer to lie to a grand jury about their sexual relationship.
"This is unconscionable conduct by a district attorney — someone whose job it is to uphold the law," Shapiro said.
Lesley Childers-Potts, who had been Higgins' second-in-command, will run the county prosecutor's office until a new district attorney can be elected.