PHILADELPHIA (FOX 29) - A powerful union boss who has long held a tight grip on construction jobs in the Philadelphia region and wielded political power in the city and Statehouse has been indicted on embezzlement and fraud charges along with a city councilman who allegedly did his bidding and six others.
Johnny "Doc" Dougherty exerted complete control over the union, according to the 116-count indictment, using that power to "repeatedly and persistently steal its funds and put his own self-interests over that of the membership." All told, the defendants misspent more than $600,000 in union funds, officials 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. He has been at the helm of the century-old electricians union for 25 years.
The union over the years has emerged as a major political donor, spending tens of millions of dollars through its political action committees, mostly to help Democrats in Pennsylvania.
Feds. charge city union chief John Dougherty with corruption in wide ranging probe. Others charged. @Fox29Philly— Jeff Cole (@JeffColeFox29) January 30, 2019
#HappeningNow: @USAO_EDPA news conference announcing a 116-count indictment against IBEW Local 98 business manager John Dougherty, Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon & others. pic.twitter.com/OE1whLxFen— FBI Philadelphia (@FBIPhiladelphia) January 30, 2019
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.
Councilman Bobby Henon, a former union official, got a $70,000 union salary to press Dougherty's interests at City Hall, officials said in the indictment unsealed Wednesday. Henon used his office to pressure Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Comcast Corp. and others to use union labor, prosecutors said at a morning news conference.
The union paid Dougherty $1.4 million between 2010 and 2016. He and the other defendants are due to appear in court Friday.
His 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 in a statement.
Dougherty helped Mayor Jim Kenney win election in 2015, the same year his brother, Kevin Dougherty, won a seat on the state Supreme Court. Henon had been Dougherty's political director before winning a City Council seat in 2011.
T.J. Rooney, a former state Democratic Party chairman, said the political reach of the electricians' union under Dougherty "in the region is unparalled and in the state is tremendously impactful."
The electricians' union is easily the most influential private-sector labor union in Pennsylvania politics, rivaled only by public-sector labor unions, he said.
Dougherty, however, is not "some old-school cigar-chomping union boss," Rooney said. The union, under Dougherty, has expanded its numbers and profile through apprenticeship programs and its deep involvement in community projects and charitable missions, Rooney said.
"That's not old-timey, that's new-schooley," he said.
FOX 29's Hank Flynn sat down last week for an exclusive one-on-one with Dougherty.
"Some people are vindictive. Most people just don’t understand my industry, and I play with a lot of powerful people who aren’t fond of me," Dougherty said. "A lot of people in this town — most of the greedy elite — they don’t think much of me, OK? I’m white trash to them guys."
Dougherty’s lawyer released a statement Wednesday on his behalf, saying that Dougherty has devoted "all his energies" to the union for a quarter century. "To allege that John in any way attempted to defraud the union he cares about so deeply is preposterous," Henry Hockeimer said.
The full statement is below:
"For twenty five years John has devoted all of his energies to Local 98 and to those working in the trades in Philadelphia. Everyday his focus is on his family and his other family, IBEW Local 98. Every move he makes is done in order to better the lives of the membership of Local 98. And the dramatic increase in wages, health care benefits and the overall standard of living for the membership is a testament to that singular focus. To allege that John in any way attempted to defraud the Union he cares about so deeply is preposterous. He looks forward to his day in court and the opportunity to clear his name."
Henon has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. His office said he will continue to serve.
Henon also alleged his innoncence Wednesday.
"I have done nothing wrong," Henon said in a statement. "Every action I have taken as City Council member has been with the goal of serving working people."
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.
You can read the full indictment here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.