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‘Johnny Doc’ ally who led Philly zoning board sentenced to more than a year in prison for nonprofit thefts

James E. Moylan, 57, is the latest person in the embattled union chief’s orbit to be incarcerated as part of an investigation that threatens to send Dougherty and City Councilman Bobby Henon to prison.

James E. Moylan leaves the federal courthouse in Philadelphia after pleading guilty in October to 17 counts of fraud and four counts of tax evasion.
James E. Moylan leaves the federal courthouse in Philadelphia after pleading guilty in October to 17 counts of fraud and four counts of tax evasion.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

The former chair of the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment, a longtime ally of labor leader John J. “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, was sentenced Monday to 15 months in federal prison for embezzling more than $50,000 from charity.

James E. Moylan, 57, is the latest person in the embattled union chief’s orbit to be incarcerated as part of an investigation that threatens to send Dougherty and City Councilmember Bobby Henon to prison.

His sentence comes months before Dougherty, Henon, and seven other officials with Dougherty’s union, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, are to stand trial, and could serve as an early indicator of how U.S. District Judge Jeffrey M. Schmehl might punish those higher-profile defendants if they ultimately are found guilty.

In court Monday, Moylan’s lawyer told the judge that Moylan was ready to repay his debts and move on with his life after pleading guilty to counts of fraud and tax evasion last year.

“He’s made mistakes. We get it,” defense attorney Joseph P. Capone said. “He tripped and fell when he wrote a few checks to himself. It was so easy. He did it again. Maybe planned to pay it back, maybe he didn’t.”

Schmehl cut Capone off, noting that he hears stories like that every day and that “this was not an aberration.”

Addressing Moylan later with a reference to the duration of his “systematic looting of civic and charitable institutions,” including the charitable arm of Local 98, Schmehl added: “Nothing that happens in a four-year period is an aberration. That’s a long period of time, and you clearly diverted money that was meant to benefit the South Philadelphia community.”

Still, the judge cut the Pennsport chiropractor a break. The sentence he imposed — which also included an order that Moylan pay $130,000 in restitution to the charities he looted and the IRS — was the lowest penalty suggested under federal sentencing guidelines.

In explaining his decision, Schmehl cited the supporters who packed the courtroom to attest to Moylan’s long service to his Pennsport community.

Leading the neighborhood’s civic association, he led residents’ fight against an unpopular Foxwoods Casino project in 2010, and helped enlist Philadelphia police and community residents in a plan to bring order to the drunken chaos of the Mummers’ annual Two Street celebrations.

But it was his devotion to one Pennsport resident in particular — Dougherty — that first attracted FBI scrutiny.

Moylan is not a member of Dougherty’s union, but the men have had close ties for more than two decades. It was Dougherty who encouraged Moylan to move to Pennsport and set up his practice there in the early 2000s, and both have remained active in the neighborhood.

In addition to their mutual involvement in the Pennsport Civic Association, both have chaired the Interstate Land Management Corp., a taxpayer-funded nonprofit formed to maintain state-owned land near I-95 along the Delaware River.

Moylan has worked as a paid political consultant for Local 98. And when a fight broke out between nonunion bricklayers and Dougherty and members of his union in 2014 — just blocks from Moylan’s South Third Street office — the chiropractor spoke in the union leader’s defense.

Mayor Jim Kenney appointed Moylan in February 2016 to lead the zoning board, a five-member panel that plays a vital role in shaping city development and that grants exceptions to building restrictions. But Moylan resigned the post nine months later, after his connection to the FBI’s probe of Dougherty became known with a series of coordinated raids on the offices and homes of union allies, including Moylan..

Capone did not mention the labor leader’s name in court Monday, but in a sentencing memo filed with the court, the defense attorney suggested that the only reason federal authorities took an interest in his client was Dougherty.

“Moylan was called in as a potential witness to alleged improper events by others which the government believed [he] may have knowledge of,” he wrote. “Having no knowledge of the events sought by the government in its prosecution of Local 98, the investigation soon turned to [Moylan] directly.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul L. Gray was unapologetic, contending in court that the reasons FBI agents began investigating Moylan were immaterial in light of his admitted crimes.

“The way these nonprofits operate, there’s little oversight of them,” Gray said. “Were it not for the investigation of Local 98, we wouldn’t have looked at [Moylan’s] bank accounts, and none of these crimes would have been uncovered.”

Moylan was serving as treasurer of 298 Inc., a union-backed charity, when he lobbied Dougherty in February 2013 to donate $25,000 to an independent nonprofit he founded to advocate for fairer tax policy in the city.

But instead of injecting the money as promised into the debate surrounding the city’s efforts to fix its broken property tax system, Moylan withdrew it and used the money to pay his mortgage, business expenses, and personal bills for dinners, travel, and rounds of golf.

Most of a subsequent $25,000 check from 298 Inc. in April and $7,000 in 2016 also went toward paying Moylan’s bills.

Prosecutors — who have not accused Dougherty of involvement in Moylan’s theft — said the chiropractor also hid nearly $300,000 in income from the IRS between 2012 and 2016 by claiming as business expenses bills from his daughter’s wedding, her college, and his gym memberships.

Moylan told the court Monday he regretted his actions.

“I have and will continue to offer my heartfelt sorrow to those who trusted me,” he said. “My acts of contrition have been and will be ongoing for the rest of my life.”