Feds indict powerful Philly union boss, councilman, others
PHILADELPHIA — A powerful union boss with a tight grip on construction jobs in the Philadelphia region and outsized influence in city and state politics has been indicted in alleged schemes to embezzle more than $600,000 and have a councilman on the union payroll to do his bidding at City Hall.
Johnny “Doc” Dougherty has steered tens of millions of dollars to political candidates in Pennsylvania during his 25-year tenure running the electricians union. He helped get Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney elected to office in 2015, the same year his brother, Kevin Dougherty, won a seat on the state Supreme Court.
And he’s used his muscle to influence political and business decisions large and small.
According to the 116-count indictment, Dougherty pressed Comcast Corp. to steer $2 million worth of electrical work to a friend as the media giant negotiated the renewal of the city’s 15-year cable lease; pressured Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to have union workers install MRI machines even though the warranty called for it to be done by the manufacturer; and had his point man at City Hall, Councilman Bobby Henan, investigate a towing company that seized Dougherty’s car.
He also had the union give $6,400 in “scholarships” to the daughters of cash-strapped former District Attorney Seth Williams, so they could go to summer camp overseas, the indictment said. Williams is now serving a five-prison term in an earlier corruption probe.
“I got a different world than most people ever exist in. I am able to take care of a lot of people all the time,” Dougherty said in offering a luxury Sporting Club gym membership to a relative, the indictment said.
Dougherty, 58, leads the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, with 5,000 members, along with the city’s Building Trades Council, an umbrella group with more than 70,000 members. The indictment said he “put his own self-interests over that of the membership,” while FBI Special Agent Michael Harpster at a morning news conference described the union boss as “not pro-union.” ?
Dougherty’s lawyer challenged that view.
In a statement, lawyer Henry E. Hockeimer said Dougherty has devoted “all his energies” to the union for a quarter century, leading to dramatic increases in wages and benefits. “To allege that John in any way attempted to defraud the union he cares about so deeply is preposterous,” Hockeimer said.
The union under Dougherty has emerged as a major political donor, spending more than $30 million through political action committees over the past decade, mostly to help Democrats, campaign finance records show. That includes at least $650,000 to Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf’s successful run in 2018 and $1.5 million to Kevin Dougherty’s 2015 judicial campaign.
Questioned on the matter Wednesday, Wolf said the money was given “voluntarily” by individual workers and their families.
“I really value and appreciate the support I got from working people all across Pennsylvania, and what happens at the senior levels in leadership in any organization, I think the law will do what it has to do,” the governor said.
According to the indictment, Dougherty used union credit cards to buy groceries and household goods and to splurge on restaurants, and let others in his orbit do the same. He allegedly used union funds to pay contractors for work at his South Philadelphia home and bar. And he put friends and family members on the union’s payroll, showering them with raises and overtime for hours they didn’t work and using them to do personal tasks, prosecutors said.
Henon, a former union official, got a $70,000 union salary to push Dougherty’s agenda at City Hall, investigators said. Dougherty received $1.4 million in salary from the union between 2010 and 2016. He and the other defendants are due to appear in court Friday.
“I have done nothing wrong,” Henon said in a statement Wednesday as his office vowed he would continue to serve. “Every action I have taken as City Council member has been with the goal of serving working people.”
Mark Nevins, a Philadelphia-based Democratic political consultant, said Dougherty is one of a few donors who can stroke a six-figure campaign check in Pennsylvania, where there are no limits to political donations.
“He wasn’t the only one who could do that, but he was one of them,” Nevins said. “And that put him in elite company.
“You couldn’t ignore him,” Nevins said.
The defendants include Henon, the majority leader on council and chair of the public property and public works committee; union president Brian Burrows, and union officials Michael Neill, Marita Crawford, Niko Rodriguez and Brian Fiocca — Dougherty’s nephew. Also charged was Anthona Massa, who ran a construction company that received more than $1.8 million from the union for work done between 2010 and 2016.