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John Dougherty and Bobby Henon bribery trial: What you need to know

The case could shape the future of organized labor, politics, and public corruption investigations in Philadelphia for years to come.

John Dougherty (right) and Bobby Henon at the Palm Restaurant at the Bellevue in May 2011.
John Dougherty (right) and Bobby Henon at the Palm Restaurant at the Bellevue in May 2011.Read moreAlejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer

Update: John Dougherty and Bobby Henon were convicted of most counts in their federal bribery trial.

Union leader John J. Dougherty and Philadelphia City Councilmember Bobby Henon are headed to court, more than two years after they were charged in a federal bribery and corruption case. The outcome could shape the future of organized labor, politics, and public corruption investigations in the city for years to come.

Here’s what you need to know about the case and those involved:

Who is Johnny Doc?

Dougherty — known widely as “Johnny Doc” — is the longtime business manager of the politically influential Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and head of the Building and Construction Trades Council. He’s a kingmaker of Philadelphia City Hall, and a Pennsylvania political heavyweight.

In his nearly three decades leading Local 98, Dougherty, 61, has transformed the 4,700-member organization into a political powerhouse and the largest independent source of campaign money in the state. Union fund-raising and manpower have helped elect mayors — including Jim Kenney — as well as City Council members, county commissioners, members of Congress, state legislators, governors and more than 60 judges, including the union leader’s brother, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty.

He’s been an outspoken champion for organized labor in Philadelphia. His union is known for pitching inflatable rats at nonunion picket lines and parking its “Rat-mobile” at worksites during labor disputes.

But he’s also found himself in the government’s crosshairs several times over the years — a state grand jury investigation, probes by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, a 2006 investigation by the FBI — only to emerge unscathed.

» READ MORE: Who is Johnny Doc, Philadelphia’s most powerful union leader?

Who is Councilmember Bobby Henon?

Henon, 52, a three-term incumbent on City Council and its former majority leader, represents his native Northeast Philadelphia.

A former electrician who served as political director of Local 98 for more than a decade, he was elected to Council in 2011 on a wave of union money and support. Since then, the councilmember has also remained on the union’s payroll — earning a more than $70,000-per-year salary — in an untitled position reporting directly to Dougherty, while also collecting his $140,000 annual paycheck from City Hall.

What are the charges?

Federal prosecutors charged Dougherty, Henon, and six other Local 98 officials and allies in a 116-count indictment alleging bribery, embezzlement and a host of other crimes in January 2019. But last year, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl granted a defense request to split that case into two trials.

The first, set to begin Monday, is focused solely on charges tied to the relationship between Dougherty and Henon. Each man faces 13 counts including conspiracy and honest services fraud. Henon faces an additional seven counts of honest services fraud and bribery.

» READ MORE: Breaking down the case: U.S. v. John Dougherty, et al.

In essence, the government will argue that Dougherty bought himself a City Councilmember by continuing to pay Henon for a no-show, no-responsibility job with Local 98, even after he was in elected office. In exchange, prosecutors say, Henon allowed Dougherty to control his vote and the powers of his office on issues that mattered to Dougherty.

» READ MORE: Read the full 116-count indictment

How did Dougherty allegedly benefit?

The indictment against the men lays out six instances between 2015 and 2016 in which prosecutors say Dougherty leaned on Henon for official actions that benefited either himself or his union, including:

  1. Using Henon’s power as the councilmember with oversight of the Department of Licenses & Inspections to shut down the installation of MRI machines at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia by nonunion workers

  2. Having Henon threaten to hold up a vote on the renegotiation of Comcast’s franchise agreement with the city in 2015 unless the corporation agreed to hire one of Dougherty’s favored union contractors for electrical work

  3. Advising Henon to squash a proposed audit of the PPA in order to benefit Dougherty’s allies within the organization

  4. Rallying Henon to support Kenney’s signature soda tax bill because Dougherty wanted to strike a blow against the rival Teamster’s union, which opposed it

  5. Instructing Henon to postpone a vote on an update to the city’s plumbing code, so that Dougherty could better use it as leverage in his election as the head of the Building Trade’s Council

  6. Having Henon draft a resolution calling for public hearings to investigate a tow-truck company that tried to tow Dougherty’s car

What does the defense say?

Both men have denied the charges. Their lawyers describe the case as a “feeble attempt at criminalizing the legislative process.” They argue that what the government describes as a criminal conspiracy is nothing more than the “normal and lawful lobbying of a City Councilmember” and that Henon was acting in order to advance the interests of his constituents.

Henon maintains he’s never tried to hide that he was a pro-union candidate, and so it’s only natural that he and Dougherty see eye-to-eye on many issues. But he has insisted that any votes or actions he took on Council were solely his decisions.

As for his Local 98 salary, he has argued that state law allows for members of Council to hold outside employment. At least seven other members do. He regularly disclosed his IBEW paychecks on ethics filings.

» READ MORE: Can a paycheck be a bribe? Johnny Doc’s lawyers say no, push to dismiss case involving Council member Henon.

What will jurors hear at trial?

Both prosecutors and the defense have said little about who they might call as witnesses at the trial. Neither Dougherty nor Henon has indicated whether they intend to testify in their defense.

However, much of the government’s evidence is likely to come from the months FBI agents spent wiretapping Dougherty’s phone between 2015 and 2016. Several of his conversations with Henon during that period are quoted in the indictment.

» READ MORE: John Dougherty’s ties to Bobby Henon will take center stage as the Philly powerbrokers’ bribery trial begins

How long is the trial supposed to last?

Lawyers expect the trial — which will be held at the James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse at Sixth and Market Streets in Philadelphia — to last four to six weeks.

What happens if they are convicted?

Dougherty and Henon face a maximum 20-year sentence on the most serious charge they both face. For Henon, a conviction would also mean the loss of his Council seat and his government pension. Dougherty’s political influence and future as the leader of his union would be in doubt. However, both would likely appeal a guilty verdict.

What about the rest of the charges?

Schmehl, the judge overseeing the case, has not yet set a date for the second trial on the other half of the indictment — allegations that Dougherty and five other union officials embezzled more than $600,000 to cover home repairs, shopping sprees, travel and dozens of mundane purchases for items like diapers and cereal. He has indicated it will happen at some point after this first trial is finished.

» READ MORE: For leader John Dougherty, union-paid generosity began at home

Dougherty also faces a third set of charges involving accusations that he threatened a contractor who accused his nephew of assault. That trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 8 but is likely to be postponed as the other cases move forward.

Meanwhile, the Department of Labor has also sued Dougherty’s union seeking to undo its most recent leadership elections. Government lawyers maintain Dougherty and his allies threatened rivals who were considering runs against them. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Keep up with every development in John Dougherty and Bobby Henon’s case with our day-by-day recaps, live coverage, and explainer on everything you need to know about the case.