For leader John Dougherty, union-paid generosity began at home
Dougherty allegedly bestowed on his relatives home renovations, extravagant meals, lavish birthday parties, and shopping sprees. Three men on the union payroll collectively referred to as “the kids” were portrayed as personal gofers for his family by prosecutors.
In what overnight became the iconic quote from his federal indictment last week, labor leader John J. Dougherty was recorded expounding on his life: “I got a different world than most people ever exist in. I am able to take care of a lot of people all the time.”
Especially his family.
Whether it was a $125 birthday cake from Termini Bros. Bakery for his dad’s 81st birthday or a $19,882 security system and large-screen TVs for his daughter, prosecutors say that Dougherty was unstinting in showering goodies and benefits on no less than 10 family members, as well as himself and others in his inner circle. All free from contractors, or paid for from the coffers of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Tapping his members' dues, Dougherty allegedly bestowed on his relatives home renovations, extravagant meals, lavish birthday parties, and shopping sprees for everything from Danielle Steele novels to baby wipes. He kept on the union payroll three young men whom he collectively referred to as “the kids” and whom prosecutors portrayed as personal gofers for his family.
Prosecutors have charged Dougherty, 58, with embezzling union funds, wire fraud, falsifying records, and accepting illegal payments. Among seven other defendants is Brian Fiocca, a son of Dougherty’s sister, Maureen Fiocca.
The indictment says 10 family members were on the receiving end of his generosity, but does not name them.
The Inquirer was able to identify a number from clues in the 153-page indictment — such as “Happy Birthday Pop,” a message on a birthday cake — and from people familiar with the investigation. Among the family members identified were his father, John J. Dougherty Sr.; his wife, Cecilia; and his daughter, Erin. None has been accused of wrongdoing.
Based on facts listed in the indictment, Dougherty’s wife would appear to be the person labeled Family Member No. 1. This individual is said to be a woman living with Dougherty and with parents who reside on Sigel Street in South Philadelphia. Cecilia Dougherty’s parents live on Sigel.
The indictment accuses Dougherty of using union funds to pay for a $1,907 birthday party for Family Member No. 1 on Aug. 26, 2015. Cecilia Dougherty’s 54th birthday was the following day.
Dougherty threw the party at Café Martorano in Atlantic City. In seeking union reimbursement, he described the event as a “IBEW Third District Progress Meeting.”
Family Member No. 1′s parents also received treats.
“Tomorrow, tell your mom and dad not to cook, I got crab cakes coming from the Palm,” Dougherty is heard telling her in a 2015 phone call recorded during the 16-month period that the FBI tapped his cell phone. “They’ll like that. That’s for you too.”
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At Dougherty’s direction, according to the indictment, family meals out were reimbursed as union meetings with politicians and others. One was listed as a meeting to discuss “diversity in the union movement.”
Dougherty was particularly solicitous of Family Member No. 2, who by all indication is his father, John J. Dougherty Sr. (Dougherty’s mother died in 2008.)
In the indictment, Family Member No. 2 is identified as having a home in Somers Point on the New Jersey Shore. Dougherty’s father has owned a home there since 1998. The union leader threw a party for Family Member No. 2 on Aug. 7, 2015 – John Dougherty Sr.'s birthday. That was the party with the cake reading “Happy Birthday Pop."
In 2014 and 2015, the indictment says, contracting firms connected to Dougherty went to Family Member No. 2′s Somers Point home to make $8,000 in repairs. The labor was free or paid by Local 98 under false invoices stating the work was on union buildings, according to the indictment.
Some of the work was done by the South Jersey firm MJK Electric. Last week, the firm’s owner, George Peltz, pleaded guilty to illegally providing free work to Dougherty and other gifts worth more than $65,000 — and to making the free repairs at the Somers Point home. The indictment of Dougherty in turn accuses Dougherty of steering more than $7 million in electrical work and union subsidies to MJK.
In June 2015, Family Member No. 2 went with Dougherty to New York to watch American Pharoah win the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown. Joining them were four others, including Local 98 political director Marita Crawford, another person charged in the indictment. The union picked up the $1,145 tab for three meals during the trip.
Dougherty gave road trip expenses a benign explanation in claiming reimbursement from Local 98: “Political Meeting (NY) 6 people.”
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In an attempt to reach Dougherty’s wife and father for comment, the Inquirer contacted Frank Keel, a spokesperson for Dougherty, who said he would speak to each. Later, Keel said both declined to comment. He and the union’s lawyer have previously branded the federal charges against Dougherty as “preposterous.”
In all, Dougherty allegedly used Local 98 funds to pay for six birthday celebrations during the years scrutinized by federal prosecutors, including a $1,378 party for himself at a steakhouse at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City in 2015. He returned to the same restaurant two months later to celebrate Crawford’s 46th birthday. The $3,972 bill was paid for by the union.
Another Dougherty relative is identified in the indictment as Family Member No. 5. The relative is described as an employee of the union-backed Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter School who had also been a paid worker for Local 98 until 2013. This description fits Erin Dougherty, 38, Dougherty’s daughter. She is the chief executive of the charter school, paid $115,000 yearly at the last public report.
Family Member No. 5 benefited from free improvements to her home in South Philadelphia. Those include that $19,882 in televisions and a security system. The hardware, TVs, and labor were provided free by Peltz, according to the indictment.
In addition, prosecutors said, Family Member No. 5 enjoyed such perks as having free steaks and crab cakes delivered to her home, and free tickets to a Kenny Chesney concert, and to college and professional basketball games.
Reached by phone, Erin Dougherty told a reporter she would call back but did not.
In addition to the construction allegedly performed by Peltz, prosecutors also charged another contractor, Anthony Massa of Philadelphia, with ordering his crews to work on the homes of John J. Dougherty and other union officials, as well as the houses of Dougherty Sr. and Maureen Fiocca, 52, Dougherty’s sister, who lives next door to her brother. In return, prosecutors said, Massa received lucrative contracts through Local 98.
Maureen Fiocca could not be reached for comment.
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In all, the indictment lists 24 unnamed people who it said received personal or political benefits from the union, including six other family members, several other Local 98 staffers, and three public officials.
The indictment also explored in detail the services provided by three Local 98 employees who performed chores and errands for Dougherty and his relatives as part of their jobs.
The indictment named two of the three in bringing charges against them — Niko Rodriguez and Brian Fiocca, both 27. The third man, was referred to only as Individual No. 1. Three people familiar with the investigation identified him as Tom Rodriguez, 23, the son of union official Crawford. He is not related to Niko Rodriguez. It was unclear why the indictment charges Fiocca and Niko Rodriguez but not Tom Rodriguez.
Attempts to reach Tom Rodriguez were unsuccessful. No one answered calls to the phone at his last listed address. His father, reached by the Inquirer, said he would relay a message to him. His son did not contact the newspaper.
In 2016, according to Local 98′s most recent public disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor, Niko Rodriguez was paid $60,000 annually, Brian Fiocca $107,000 (with an additional $7,000 in covered expenses), and Tom Rodriguez $75,000 (with $9,000 paid in expenses).
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In December 2016, Tom Rodriguez and Niko Rodriguez were with Dougherty during a confrontation with a nonunion electrician in South Philadelphia. As the Inquirer reported, surveillance video captured Tom Rodriguez bleeding from a cut to his head afterward.
As outlined in the indictment, “the kids” performed tasks for Dougherty that were manifold and mundane. Tom Rodriguez fueled and cleaned Family Member No. 1′s car. Brian Fiocca would drive to Somers Point to pick up Family Member No. 2′s mail. Niko Rodriguez used union money to buy a power washer to clean John Dougherty’s sidewalk. And so on.
Still, Local 98 president Brian Burrows, one of several top union officials charged in the indictment, was not impressed.
Of Tom Rodriguez, Burrows was quoted in the indictment as saying: “That deadbeat … that’s all that kid is.”
Of all three, Burrows said, "Them kids, it’s all smoke and mirrors with them kids. … I don’t know what they do all day.”