Soda tax fight emerged as a key issue as John Dougherty’s trial closed its second week
Prosecutors closed out the second week of their bribery case with testimony from the head of a local Teamsters union opposed to the tax.
Federal prosecutors closed out the second week of their federal bribery case against labor leader John Dougherty and Philadelphia City Councilmember Bobby Henon on Friday with a close look at Henon’s union paychecks and the political jockeying surrounding Mayor Jim Kenney’s signature soda tax.
Daniel Grace, head of the Teamsters Local 830, recalled from the witness stand his union’s staunch opposition to the mayor’s proposal — one he believed would end up hurting its membership of truck drivers, warehouse workers, and merchandizers in the beer and soda industry.
He told jurors he couldn’t understand why Henon — an avowedly pro-union official who had opposed a similar soda tax proposal put forth under Mayor Michael Nutter — had suddenly switched sides.
“I couldn’t get a straight answer out of him as to why he was doing it,” Grace said. “He knew it would be devastating to the members. … I couldn’t understand why him, as a former union member, would do something like he did.”
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Prosecutors have alleged that Henon’s support for the tax arose after Dougherty took offense to a 2015 political ad paid for by the Teamsters and Carpenters’ unions that attacked then-candidate Kenney for receiving Dougherty’s backing.
Wiretapped calls played for jurors earlier in the week showed Dougherty and Henon plotting to throw their support behind the idea because they knew it would hurt the Teamsters.
But Dougherty’s lawyers have pushed back against that timeline, noting that those calls referred to an earlier iteration of the soda-tax proposal — one floated by Nutter in 2015.
Kenney’s proposal, which allocated money for specific programs like preschool access and other initiatives of the nascent administration, changed the political calculus for Dougherty and Henon.
What’s more, defense attorney Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. noted, Kenney was more openly aligned as mayor with the organized labor community than Nutter, his predecessor, had been.
Dougherty alluded to Kenney’s labor ties in a February 2016 wiretapped conversation with Grace that was played in court. The two were discussing how they could help a mutual ally land a job with the new mayor.
“I’m starting to ask for some of the stuff I want now,” Dougherty said. “And he [Kenney] is giving me whatever we want.”
He said that he’d already “got” close allies into the administration, including Richard Lazer, a former consultant for Dougherty’s Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who Kenney had named deputy mayor for labor.
» READ MORE: Testifying in John Dougherty’s trial, Deputy Mayor Richard Lazer describes close ties to the labor leader
Dougherty also cited Chris Rupe, Local 98′s former legislative director who had been hired as chief of staff in the Managing Director’s Office, and James E. Moylan, Dougherty’s chiropractor and Kenney’s appointee to lead the Zoning Board of Adjustments.
Moylan resigned in 2016 after the FBI raided his home as part of the Dougherty investigation. He’s since pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 months in prison for embezzling more than $50,000 from Local 98′s charitable arm.
A Kenney administration spokesperson said Friday that Lazer and the others were hired for their qualifications.
“The individuals that were mentioned were qualified for the positions they were appointed to,” said Kevin Lessard, the city’s acting communications director in a statement. As for Dougherty’s remark on the call that by appointing the men Kenney was “giving me whatever we want,” Lessard said the mayor could not comment on the ongoing trial.
But it’s Henon’s job with Local 98 that is the central focus of the trial. Prosecutors maintain that Dougherty bought Henon’s vote and the powers of his office with a no-show job and a union salary. In exchange, they say, Henon performed a series of official acts that benefitted Dougherty personally and professionally, including the councilmember’s involvement in the soda tax fight.
Union financial statements and payroll records introduced into evidence Friday showed that Henon received $71,711 from the union in 2015 and $73,485 in 2016 — the two years central to the case.
On top of that, he collected more than $111,000 in health benefits, pension contributions, and profit sharing during the period.
Henon maintains that he earned that money through actual work for Local 98, that he always declared it on his public financial statements, and that he’s hardly the only member of Council to hold outside employment.
His lawyer Brian McMonagle has been quick to note that before Henon became a councilmember in 2011, he had been a longtime union member and Local 98′s political director.
Once he began collecting a nearly $140,000-a-year city salary after his 2011 election to Council, the union cut his pay roughly in half, paying him only for part-time work, financial records show.
“Anybody who cares or was looking at [the union’s filings] would know what his salary was before he was on City Council … and after,” McMonagle said Friday.
Testimony in the case is expected to resume Monday.
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