Labor leader John Dougherty still has more legal problems
IBEW Local 98's longtime leader faces at least two more trials for embezzlement and extortion in the coming months. And the feds aren’t done with City Hall, either.
Labor leader John Dougherty was convicted Monday on most charges in his public corruption trial, and his legal problems are far from over.
The longtime leader of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and one-man center of gravity in city and state politics faces at least two more trials in the coming months. And the feds aren’t done with City Hall, either.
Here’s what you need to know:
The embezzlement case
When Dougherty was indicted in 2019, the prosecutors’ case included two sets of allegations — the political bribery case involving Bobby Henon and a raft of accusations that Dougherty and five other union officials embezzled more than $600,000 from Local 98 between 2010 and 2016.
But last year, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl opted to split the case into two trials. He has not yet set a date for the second, which includes charges of conspiracy, theft, and falsification of union financial records.
Prosecutors maintain that Dougherty — along with Local 98′s president Brian Burrows, political director Marita Crawford and others — used the money to fund personal shopping sprees, restaurant dinners, and home repairs.
More than $6,000 went toward sending former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams’ daughters on summer camp trips abroad. Dougherty had hoped to — and succeeded in — winning Williams’ endorsement for his brother Kevin’s 2015 Supreme Court race.
Personal purchases at Target — dog food, Lucky Charms cereal, nail polish, mouthwash — and takeout meals for Dougherty’s family from the Palm and other restaurants were regularly reimbursed with union funds after being submitted as expenses for charitable events, according to the indictment.
And tickets worth thousands of dollars for concerts by Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, and Bruce Springsteen were charged to Local 98′s American Express accounts and provided to relatives of Dougherty and other union officials, prosecutors have said.
The indictment also alleges that union funds were used to cover extensive renovation projects at Dougherty’s house, the homes of some of his family members, including Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty, and Doc’s Union Pub, the bar he used to own in South Philadelphia.
Dougherty and his codefendants have denied the charges.
The extortion case
In March, prosecutors charged Dougherty again — this time with 19 counts of conspiracy and extortion tied to threats he allegedly made in 2019 to a union contractor who employed his nephew, Greg Fiocca.
According to the indictment, Dougherty installed Fiocca, who is also charged in the case, as the union steward of a project run by contractor Raymond Palmieri and staffed by Local 98 workers. But disputes quickly arose over the fact that Fiocca rarely showed up to work or completed his assigned job duties, prosecutors said.
When Palmieri docked Fiocca’s pay, he allegedly responded with violence, throwing a job site manager into a desk during an argument.
Afterward, Dougherty threatened to pull all Local 98 workers from the job and later told Palmieri he would frustrate his future attempts to find work in the city, prosecutors said.
That afternoon, three Local 98 members showed up at the job site, and while on the phone with Dougherty, allegedly informed Palmieri’s staff that Fiocca would remain in his position, and nothing would change.
Dougherty has also vowed to take this one to trial. His spokesperson, Frank Keel, balked when prosecutors announced the charges just months before the trial with Henon.
“This isn’t a prosecution,” he said. “It’s a persecution.”
The Department of Labor suit
Meanwhile, the U.S. Labor Department sued Dougherty’s union in January, seeking to force it to redo its most recent leadership elections which it claimed Dougherty and his allies had tainted by threatening candidates considering challenging them for their positions.
The department maintains that union leaders launched a pressure campaign meant to scare three potential contenders for executive positions out of the race. All of them said they were threatened with being denied future work if they ran for union office.
Local 98′s lawyers are fighting the case in federal court and have separately sued one of the would-be candidates behind the Labor Department’s involvement for defamation, claiming he ran an “anonymous, malicious, sexually harassing website that exists solely to smear John Dougherty, other Local 98 officers,” and their family members.
The union has previously drawn government scrutiny for its management of competitive internal races. In 2014, the union signed a compliance agreement with the Labor Department after investigators determined union leaders had improperly disqualified eligible candidates for office.
Even afterward, the potential candidates involved in that probe said they were blackballed and denied work for nearly two years, government lawyers say.
Meanwhile, at City Hall
Henon’s acquittal doesn’t mean City Hall’s out of the spotlight of federal investigators either.
In February, Henon’s Council colleague, Kenyatta Johnson, is set to face his own bribery trial tied to allegations he accepted more than $66,750 in bribes paid in the form of contracting work for his wife.
The source? Two executives at Universal Companies — the South Philadelphia community development charity and charter school operator founded by renowned music producer Kenny Gamble — who were seeking Johnson’s aid with matters before Council, prosecutors say.
According to the indictment, Johnson helped Universal receive zoning adjustments to the blighted Royal Theater on South Street, the historic Black movie palace which the nonprofit had struggled to redevelop for 14 years.
After those changes went through, Universal managed to sell the property for $3.7 million — more than 15 times what it had originally paid.
Johnson, his wife, Dawn Chavous, and the two Universal executives charged with them have all denied wrongdoing.
“This whole process, for the whole five years, has been nothing but intimidation and bullying by the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Johnson said upon his indictment last year. “It’s insulting to my wife, as a pawn, as a way to get to me.”