With their final pitch to jurors Monday, lawyers in the federal trial of John Dougherty and Bobby Henon clashed over what constitutes a bribe and the nature of the relationship between the city’s most powerful labor leader and his chief ally on City Council.
As Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Costello told it, Henon was Dougherty’s “man on the inside” of City Hall, a longtime union electrician swept into office on a tide of union money and then put on retainer with a more than $70,000-a-year paycheck to do Dougherty’s bidding.
“Simply put, Dougherty bought Henon,” he said. “He never said ‘No,’ no matter what Dougherty wanted.”
The defense shot back, questioning how Henon, an avowedly pro-union politician, could have committed a crime by routinely siding with Dougherty and the building trades workers he was elected to represent.
“If you know that the person you’re supposedly bribing is already going to do what you want,” Dougherty’s lawyer Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. said, “then there is no bribe.”
That back-and-forth came as jurors prepared to begin deliberations in one of the city’s most closely watched public corruption trials in years. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl is expected to deliver instructions to the panel on the law Tuesday morning before handing the case over to the eight women and four men set to decide Dougherty’s and Henon’s fate.
For more than a month, prosecutors have sought to prove that Dougherty, the longtime leader of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, effectively bought himself a councilmember and then used the powers of Henon’s office like a vise to squeeze a wide array of foes — including Comcast, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and even a tow-truck driver who tried to haul away Dougherty’s car.
Yet while jurors have heard from dozens of the men’s private phone calls caught on FBI wiretaps over the last five weeks — which prosecutors describe as evidence of their federal crimes — the defense has countered they contain nothing of the sort. There are no laws prohibiting members of Council from earning outside income, the attorneys have argued, and Henon viewed Dougherty as a trusted ally and mentor, not a puppeteer.
Both Dougherty and Henon are facing multiple counts of conspiracy and honest services fraud that could send them to prison for up to 20 years on the most serious charge. And for Dougherty, the verdict in this case is only the beginning. He faces two more trials — one on embezzlement charges that were carved out from his 2019 indictment, and a separate case involving allegations of extorting a contractor that same year.
And the last-minute lobbying began even before Monday’s arguments, as a crowd of roughly 50 demonstrators from the city’s buildings trades amassed outside the courthouse’s Market Street entrance Monday morning, holding signs with slogans like “F — corporate giants,” “We are the 99%,” and “Stop the attack on workers.”
The messaging was echoed in in the courtroom packed with Dougherty and Henon’s family members and supporters in the afternoon. The labor leader and the councilmember sat quietly next to their attorneys showing little reaction through much of it.
“This case, in many ways, is not just about Mr. Dougherty and Mr. Henon,” Hockeimer said. “It’s about labor — it’s about unions. It’s about giving them a seat at the economic table … When you’re going up against behemoths like Comcast and the soda industry, it’s important to give them a voice.”
Throughout the trial, the defense has cast Dougherty and Henon as Davids facing off against the corporate Goliaths at the battlefield of City Hall. The influence Dougherty brought to bear on Henon, they’ve argued, was no different than the lobbying that goes on between powerful interests and elected officials every day.
In a stem-winder of a speech complete with a slideshow featuring images of Rocky, baseball diamonds, Comcast’s headquarters and the National Constitution Center, Henon’s lawyer, Brian J. McMonagle, sought to show the jury what his client truly stood for.
“All of those buildings have one thing in common,” he said. “They got built by the men and the women of labor. The blood, the sweat, and the tears of the building trades.”
He appealed to the jury’s emotions, pointing out the councilmember’s family seated in the front row. Decide, he told the jurors, “as if a man’s life depends on it.”
» READ MORE: Catch up on the John Dougherty and Bobby Henon trial
Prosecutors urged the jury to cut through those appeals to blue-collar heroism and Americana and see the relationship between Dougherty and Henon for what they said it was.
When Dougherty wanted to force labor concessions from Comcast during the city’s 2015 franchise negotiations, Henon invited him into the process and “held the bill hostage” until the labor leader got what he wanted, Costello said.
When Dougherty wanted to stop nonunion workers installing MRI machines at CHOP, the prosecutor noted, Henon was his first call.
Again and again, Costello maintained, Henon caved to Dougherty’s demands because he knew the score — he earned his Local 98 salary by being Dougherty’s “inside guy.”
“Did you ever hear [Henon] say no? Did you ever hear him even hesitate? Dougherty wasn’t paying him to exercise his independent judgment,” Costello said. “What did Robert Henon do for [his union salary?] Anything John Dougherty wanted him to do.”
Keep up with every development in John Dougherty and Bobby Henon’s case with our day-by-day recaps, live coverage, and explainer on everything you need to know about the case.