An influential Philadelphia union boss described as a “kingmaker” in city politics was indicted along with a city councilman and six others, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday.
John J. Dougherty, who heads Philadelphia Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and Councilman Bobby Henon face federal charges of embezzlement, bribery and theft. All told, Mr. Dougherty faces more than 80 counts, and Mr. Henon is charged with 20 federal crimes.
Mr. Dougherty’s arrest was the culmination of a multiyear investigation that included an August 2016 FBI raid on his home, union offices and his South Philadelphia bar. Mr. Henon’s office also was raided at that time. Mr. Henon has served on Local 98’s board of directors.
The Justice Department also targeted Mr. Dougherty in 2006 in a probe that ended without charges against him but resulted in the indictment of a friend with the same last name who pleaded guilty to theft, tax evasion and making false statements.
The indictment upends the political scene in Philadelphia, where Mr. Dougherty was viewed as one of the city’s most powerful, unelected officials. His union was the state’s single biggest independent source of campaign funding, the majority of which supported Democrats, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
In 2017, Local 98’s political action committee contributed $3.2 million to Democratic candidates statewide and “get out the vote” operations.
That influence was so strong that Mr. Dougherty strong-armed Mr. Henon into attempting to hold public hearings on how a towing company does business after it towed Mr. Dougherty’s car, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Authorities said Mr. Dougherty abused his power and used Local 98 as his “personal bank account” during a six-year period. They say he and others at the union spend thousands of dollars on personal items such as home repairs, family vacations, fancy dinners, baby supplies, dog food and even hair styling products
He also is accused of putting family members on the union dole, earning money when they were on vacation or not in school working, according to the indictment.
These personal expenses were covered up by falsifying union records to make it look they were business costs, the indictment says.
The union’s campaign donations, and its alleged largesse, came from dues paid by union members — 5 cents for every hour worked by members who are paid more than $80 an hour, including benefits.
Mr. Dougherty insisted he is innocent of wrongdoing in interviews with Philadelphia television stations in the days before the indictment was announced.
Mr. Henon is accused of using his power to settle feuds and push or fight proposed legislation at Mr. Dougherty’s direction.
“Henon abdicated his duty to provide honest services to the city Philadelphia because he made decisions on behalf of John Dougherty, rather than the people that elected him to city council,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams.
In a statement, Mr. Henon said he is “confident” his colleagues will support him in the legal process and that he is “a dedicated public servant and will continue to serve.”
Mr. Dougherty’s brother, Kevin, was elected to the state’s Supreme Court in 2015 as part of a Democratic takeover of the court. IBEW Local 98 donated nearly $1 million to the justice’s successful campaign.
Justice Dougherty joined the court’s Democratic majority in approving a redistricting map of the state’s congressional districts in 2018 that was more favorable to Democrats. It led to Democrats picking up three House seats in Pennsylvania, contributing to the party winning back the House majority in Washington.
The Philadelphia Inquirer said the Democrats’ takeover of the state Supreme Court in 2015 “couldn’t have happened without the powerful, colorful, and feared Philadelphia labor leader John ‘Johnny Doc’ Dougherty, whose support was crucial to electing three Democratic justices, including his brother Kevin.”
The indictment could hurt the re-election bid this year of Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney, who has received heavy support from Mr. Dougherty.
The labor leader has been called one of the last old-school political bosses in the country, with influence rivaling the mayor in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 6-to-1. His tactics have included organizing vocal groups of union members to shout down political opponents at rallies, and aggressively demonstrating at non-union job sites, raising accusations of intimidation.
Mr. Dougherty ran for the state Senate in 2008 but lost to another Democratic candidate linked to former Democratic state Sen. Vince Fumo, who was convicted of corruption charges.
Local 98 was one of the biggest donors last year to the successful re-election campaign of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. Mr. Dougherty told the Inquirer that the union collected about 14,000 signatures to get Mr. Wolf on the primary ballot last year, about 35 percent of the signatures needed.
In April 2016, Mr. Dougherty met with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton before she held a campaign rally in Philadelphia. The meeting took place in Mr. Kenney’s office; also present was then-Rep. Robert A. Brady, head of the city’s Democratic committee, and 19 other leaders of the city’s Building Trades council.
Mr. Dougherty said they spoke with Mrs. Clinton about her support for pre-apprenticeship programs, diversity in the workforce and labor agreements.
“She was relaxed and approachable,” he said at the time, adding that she wished him a “happy birthday” and posed for selfies.
© Copyright (c) 2019 News World Communications, Inc.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.