John Dougherty and Bobby Henon found guilty at federal bribery trial, upending city politics and organized labor
“Justice was not served today, and I can’t tell you how disappointed I am by the jury’s decision,” Dougherty said in response to the verdict.
A jury on Monday found Philadelphia union leader John Dougherty and City Councilmember Bobby Henon guilty of federal bribery charges — a decision likely to send both men to prison and seismically upend politics and organized labor in the city for years.
The convictions will cost both men their jobs, and in Dougherty’s case, end his nearly three decades as a one-man center of gravity at the helm of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — a tenure in which he transformed the union into one of Philadelphia’s most effective advocates for workers and a political powerhouse that propelled dozens of allies into statewide and local office.
Neither Dougherty, 61, nor Henon, 52, indicated how quickly they might step down as they left the courthouse after the verdict. In a statement, Dougherty vowed an immediate appeal.
"Justice was not served today, and I can’t tell you how disappointed I am by the jury’s decision,” he said. “What Councilman Henon and I were found guilty of is how business and politics are typically and properly conducted.”
» READ MORE: What’s next for labor leader John Dougherty and City Councilmember Bobby Henon after bribery trial convictions
In court, Dougherty — known widely by his nickname “Johnny Doc” — sat stone-faced next to his lawyer with his hands clasped in front of his face, as the jury foreperson read out one guilty count after another on charges including conspiracy and honest services fraud.
Dougherty’s face flushed as prosecutors urged U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl to jail him immediately, calling him a “danger to the community” — a request the judge ultimately denied.
And as the courtroom cleared, Dougherty lingered for several minutes, pacing, before departing with family members and supporters.
Henon, meanwhile, stopped on his way out to thank the court staff he had met over the last month. “I wish it could have been under better circumstances,” he said.
» READ MORE: What the jury decided on each count in the John Dougherty and Bobby Henon trial
The verdict came after a trial that shined a spotlight on the extent to which money, personal grudges, long-held relationships, and favor-trading shape deal-making at City Hall. But it was also one in which Dougherty’s lawyers argued that he and Henon, in pushing a pro-labor agenda in government, had done nothing different than the corporate giants and special interests who spend millions of dollars on lobbying efforts each year.
The jury of seven women and five men took 3½ days to conclude that Dougherty had bought Henon’s loyalty, his vote, and the powers of his Council office with a $70,000-a-year union salary and then used them to corruptly bend Philadelphia’s government to his will.
The two men face up to 20 years in prison on the most serious charges at their sentencing hearings, scheduled for February.
And it’s only the start of Dougherty’s legal woes. He faces two more federal trials in the coming months on separate charges of embezzling from his union and extorting a contractor in 2019.
“John Dougherty is not above the law. Councilman Bobby Henon is not above the law,” acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said after the verdicts. “Philadelphians deserve more than a system that favors the few who have a person they can call to get things done. Everyone deserves equal access to the decision-makers of the government.”
» READ MORE: Labor leader John Dougherty still has more legal problems. A look at the trials to come.
City Hall was less eager to address the trial’s outcome.
Mayor Jim Kenney said he respected the jury’s decision to convict Dougherty and Henon, two of his longtime allies. But he stopped short of saying whether he believed the councilmember should immediately step down.
“The Mayor expects Councilman Henon will do what he feels is right for the city and his constituents,” a spokesperson for Kenney said.
City Council President Darrell L. Clarke issued a statement saying Henon’s Council colleagues had been focused on important issues facing the city over the last several weeks.
Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, a longtime nemesis of Dougherty’s electricians union, was one of the only public officials to call for Henon’s immediate resignation.
» READ MORE: Why many Philly politicians still don’t want to talk about the convictions of ‘Johnny Doc’ and Councilmember Bobby Henon
By law, he has until his sentencing date to give up his job — a fact that his staff obliquely acknowledged in a Facebook post pledging his constituents in Northeast Philadelphia would still receive the services they expected from his district office.
“As we are given additional information about a transition process, we will share it with you,” it read.
Through six weeks of testimony, the prosecution’s trial team, led by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frank Costello Jr., Bea Witzleben, and Richard Barrett, played for the jury dozens of Dougherty and Henon’s private phone conversations, caught on FBI wiretaps. They revealed Dougherty as a hot-tempered and demanding force of nature — as quick to use every advantage at his disposal to benefit his union workforce as he was to deploy them to avenge his own personal and petty grievances.
And the chief weapon in his arsenal, they said, was Henon, whom Dougherty helped propel into office in 2011 on a tide of union money, then used as a tool to leave his mark on pressing legislation facing the city.
“Simply put, Dougherty bought Henon,” Costello said during closing arguments. Henon “never said ‘No,’ no matter what Dougherty wanted.”
As a tow-truck driver tried to haul away his car in 2015, Dougherty vowed before the truck had even left the parking lot that Henon would introduce legislation the next day to investigate the company for predatory practices.
The instructions he later delivered to Henon: “F— them to death.”
At times, Dougherty turned to Henon to advance his own professional interests — such as when, while running in 2015 to lead the Building Trades Council, an umbrella group of the city’s labor unions, he pushed Henon to propose legislation updating the city’s plumbing code in ways he knew would irk that industry’s union.
The reason? Dougherty wanted something to hold over the union leaders’ heads to secure their vote in the Building Trades race.
» READ MORE: These were the key issues jurors weighed in the John Dougherty and Bobby Henon trial
But in other instances, Dougherty deployed his control over the councilmember to the benefit of his union’s members.
As the city began renegotiating its 15-year franchise agreement with Comcast that same year, Dougherty insisted Henon hold up the bill until the company buckled to his demands to send more work to his union electricians.
Testifying at the trial, Comcast executives recalled that Henon summoned them for a secret meeting in his Council office in which he sat silent as Dougherty laid out his list of demands.
“Over an hour of [expletive] from Johnnie [sic] Doc. Either we agree that all commercial business goes to the unions, or he stops the [franchise] renewal,” one wrote to his superiors in a 2015 email. “I am feeling the brotherly love.”
Henon would later tell Dougherty: “I don’t give a f— about anybody, all right, but [expletive] you and us.”
Despite the evidence of Dougherty’s influence over Henon’s Council votes, lawyers for both men argued throughout the trial that the councilmember’s Local 98 salary could not be considered a bribe.
They maintained that while Dougherty might have seemed pushy in his phone calls with Henon, he wasn’t ordering the councilmember to do anything but instead conferring with a longtime friend and ally on issues on which they largely shared the same views.
“[Dougherty’s] often bombastic. He’s often cocky. At times he’s profane,” Dougherty’s lawyer, Henry E. Hockeimer Jr., told jurors at the start of the trial last month. “But through his single-minded, almost obsessive focus, he grew Local 98 into a powerhouse.”
City ethics rules allow for members of City Council to hold outside jobs, and Henon regularly declared his position with Local 98 on city and state disclosure filings, the defense said.
His lawyer, Brian J. McMonagle, maintained that Henon performed valuable services for his union paycheck, including serving as a liaison for the union at political and community events — contrary to prosecutors’ assertions that the post was a do-nothing job.
It’s hardly surprising, McMonagle told jurors at the start of the trial, that a man who joined Local 98 as a seasonal worker, rose through its ranks, then kicked off his political career pledging to be a voice for labor in government would take hard-line stances on behalf of union workers.
“Bobby Henon never took a bribe from John Dougherty,” he said. “He rolled up his sleeves and went to work, not for himself, but for the people of his city.”
The defense arguments appeared to hold some sway with the jury, despite the convictions.
The panel acquitted Dougherty and Henon on charges of honest services fraud related to some of the schemes prosecutors had put forth — including a claim that Henon had switched his stance on a proposed 2015 version of the city’s soda tax at Dougherty’s urging because he was seeking revenge on a rival union that opposed the measure.
Henon was also acquitted of charges related to a proposed 2016 audit of the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Prosecutors alleged he’d helped quash it at the request of the agency’s then-head, Joseph Ashdale, in exchange for a bribe of free windows for the home of his chief of staff Courtney Voss, with whom he was romantically involved.
But neither defendant appeared eager to discuss those or any other aspects of the case as they left the courthouse Monday. Henon ducked into a waiting car without saying a word.
Dougherty paused only to say he planned to meet with his lawyers and his union heads to talk next steps. His priority, he said, remained taking care of his ill wife. He ducked into a white SUV that pulled up outside the courthouse, leaving his spokesperson, Frank Keel, to respond to a crowd of TV cameras.
“John Dougherty has led this wonderful union for 30 years,” said Keel. “And until an appeal process is completed, he will continue to lead this union.”
» READ MORE: What John Dougherty’s guilty verdict may mean for his powerful local and his future in the labor movement
Staff writers Ellie Rushing, Ximena Conde, Sean Collins Walsh, and Max Marin contributed to this article.
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