BEDFORD – It’s been a little more than a year since numerous obstruction and intimidation charges were filed against former Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins, causing what many would deem an end to his career as a prosecutor.
“I’m not just going to give up,” he said. “I constantly have done things to move the ball forward.”
Higgins was charged last April as the result of a two-year investigation by the Pennsylvania State Attorney General’s Office and the 40th statewide investigating grand jury.
He was accused of providing lighter sentences for women with whom he was having sexual relationships and providing names of confidential informants to known drug dealers or their friends to protect them from prosecution on numerous occasions between 2014 and 2016.
“I made mistakes and got involved with people I shouldn’t have gotten involved with,” Higgins said during a recent interview with The Tribune-Democrat. “I crossed lines I shouldn’t have crossed.”
Higgins eventually entered into a plea agreement that allowed him to avoid jail time and felony charges in exchange for his law license, pension and resignation.
He was later disbarred by the state Supreme Court, based on a recommendation by its Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Higgins was sentenced in December to 120 days of house arrest and eight years of probation, along with community service, fines, and completion of counseling as directed by Bedford County Probation.
‘Something to offer’
Higgins said that, during the time of the offenses, he was at a difficult point in his life.
By the time he learned of the investigation into his actions, Higgins said he had already sought counseling, stopped drinking and started to go to daily Mass. He said he tried to rectify and cover up some of those mistakes, but “it was too late,” he said.
“Did I do all the things I was charged with in the way they were portrayed? No,” Higgins said. “Did I do something wrong? Absolutely, and I take full responsibility for that.
“I’m sorry. I’ll never be able to say that enough. I’m sorry I betrayed the confidence people put in me. It’s embarrassing. I’m ashamed of it. I wish I could take it back.”
Prior to ordering sentence, Bedford County President Judge Thomas Ling recognized Higgins’ work to establish the county’s intermediate punishment program and restructure its juvenile probation office.
“It’s hard for me to think how this man could do all this good for the community, (but) could also cause all this harm,” Ling said.
Higgins said he’s most disappointed about the pain brought to his family, but still stands behind the work he did as a prosecutor.
In five years, Higgins said, he is permitted to apply for reinstatement of his law license, and he plans to do so.
“I do hope to get my law license back and use it to help people,” he said. “I still think I have something to offer as a lawyer.
“I learned a lot as a prosecutor about how to be a good defense attorney. I’d like to help people get a clean slate, put their past in their past and help people make the best of a bad situation.”
However, Higgins said he’ll never pursue an elected position again.
“I enjoyed what I did, but there’s an ugly side to it,” he said. “Public office is not something I would ever do again.”
‘Stories I can share’
Without a law license, Higgins’ first career move after his resignation was into the restaurant business.
Bryan Speck, owner of Bad Boyz Bistro in Bedford, had opened a Somerset location years ago, but eventually closed the restaurant.
Speck decided to reopen the restaurant on Main Street and hired Higgins as general manager in December.
“I’m a big believer in second chances, and I’m grateful to Bryan for giving me that,” Higgins said.
But Higgins said there wasn’t a market for the restaurant in Somerset, leading to its closure in May.
“It was a learning experience for me,” Higgins said. “I know I did everything I could do to make it successful.”
Back to square one, Higgins said he started thinking about how he enjoyed talking to students at local schools when he was DA, asking them about what their passions were and making suggestions about how they could turn those passions into careers.
Then, he said, he did the same. Now, he’s recording a podcast, writing a book and working on building his own motivational speaking business.
“I love stories about how people have overcome adversity,” he said. “I actually have one of those stories I can share with people.”
Higgins’ podcast, called “Never Quit,” has four episodes to date, each of which is unedited. Higgins said he wants to learn as he goes and allow his listeners to hear his progress as he gets the hang of recording.
So far, the shows have touched on supporting others’ passions by patronizing small businesses and young entrepreneurs, using social media to uplift others and boost business and adjusting goals when necessary.
Higgins also interviewed Jim Pappas, who is pursuing his own passions by trying more than 275 cheesesteaks in the Philadelphia area and ranking his experiences over the past several months.
‘One day at a time’
Although he’s from the Philadelphia area, Higgins said he doesn’t have plans to move away from Bedford anytime soon.
“This community is really full of good people who will show up when you need it,” he said.
On the flip side, Higgins said he’s found that some acquaintances he’s made have been more forgiving than those he viewed as trusted friends before the charges were filed against him.
“There’s some positives about going through the adversity I went through,” he said. “You never know the people who are going to show up and show their true friendship. The people I thought were my friends weren’t, and for those that weren’t, I was happy to rid them from my life.”
But ultimately, Higgins pointed out that his family has lived in Bedford County since he was elected in 2003. His wife is employed there and his children go to school there, he said.
“I’m happy where my family’s happy,” he said.
“It depends on the opportunities that present themselves. I just take it one day at a time.”