Defense witnesses described Bobby Henon as ‘the hardest working councilmember’ as his federal bribery trial continues
Constituents, union leaders, police officers, a former congressman, and even a priest all took the witness stand as the defense parade of character witnesses continued.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, Philadelphia Councilmember Bobby Henon helped to deliver meals to homebound seniors.
When a homelessness prevention nonprofit was looking for footing in Northeast Philadelphia, he welcomed it as a cotenant in the same building as his district office.
Henon’s been so involved in toy drives, food pantries, neighborhood block cleanups and other charitable endeavors stretching from Port Richmond to Torresdale, said one nonprofit leader, while testifying before a federal jury Wednesday, that his office is like a one-man social services distribution center.
“I have witnessed very intensely and very closely how he and his staff are dedicated to helping anyone who comes in the door,” said Robert Byrne, director of operations for the Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network. “Nobody hears the word no.”
Those acclamations of Henon came as, for a second day, jurors heard testimony from a cavalcade of character witnesses in the federal bribery trial of the councilmember and labor leader John Dougherty.
Constituents, union leaders, police officers, a former congressman and even a priest all cycled through the witness stand at a rapid clip — with defense lawyers hoping that the glowing testimonials each one offered could erase the portrait prosecutors have sought to paint of Dougherty and Henon as a corrupt duo entrenched at City Hall.
» READ MORE: As it happened: Character witnesses for Dougherty and Henon include a priest, an ex-congressman, and a notorious anti-crime activist
The Rev. Joseph Campellone, president emeritus of Father Judge High School, told jurors Henon was always available to lend a hand, whether in organizing toy drives for underprivileged children or helping the community recover after a fire decimated the historic St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Tacony earlier this year.
Fellow elected officials from ex-U.S. Rep. Robert Borski to State Rep. Mike Driscoll described him as selfless in his public service.
He’s “the hardest working councilmember I’ve ever worked with,” Driscoll said, adding: “We call each other partners in bringing back resources to the district.”
Of Dougherty, Patrick Eiding — AFL-CIO council president and secretary-treasurer of the Dougherty-led Building Trades Council, an umbrella organization for the city’s labor unions — said: “He’s a good leader [who is] doing a good job.”
For more than four weeks, prosecutors have sought to convince the jury that Dougherty essentially bought himself a councilmember by paying Henon a $70,000-a-year salary for a do-nothing job with his union, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
And they were quick to point out Wednesday that few of the defense witnesses knew anything specific about the allegations at the heart of the bribery case.
Still, some — like Ed Mooney, international vice president of the Communication Workers of America — were directly confronted with the government’s claims.
“Did your union bribe Bobby Henon?” asked Brian McMonagle, the councilmember’s attorney, referring to a separate allegation that Henon shook down a CWA official for campaign contributions in 2015.
Mooney responded with an emphatic no.
Henon has been accused of seeking donations in exchange for helping the CWA in a labor dispute with Verizon in 2015. He convened a Council hearing in which he and other members grilled company executives in front of a raucous crowd of CWA members.
Mooney testified at that hearing, choking up as he described the cause he and his membership were fighting for. And he teared up again Wednesday while watching video clips of himself speaking six years earlier.
“That’s my job. To make sure they’re all right,” he said of his union members.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Bea Witzleben noted on cross-examination that Mooney couldn’t possibly know what was discussed in private phone calls played in court earlier in the trial between Henon and Jim Gardler, the CWA official who arranged the campaign contributions at issue in the case.
» READ MORE: Catching up on the John Dougherty and Bobby Henon bribery trial
That remark appeared to agitate Dougherty, who spent much of the day at the defense table alternating between flashing smiles to those who showed up to support him and growing increasingly upset as prosecutors cross-examined his witnesses.
The labor leader leaped from his chair as the court paused for a break after Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Costello wrapped up his questioning of Dougherty’s daughter and Local 98′s in-house counsel, Tara Chupka.
The defense had called her as a witness to discuss her role as the director of Local 98′s Labor Management Cooperative Committee (LMCC) — a fund to which contractors contribute to help with the union’s business development efforts.
The fund — and not union dues, she said — paid for Local 98′s box at Lincoln Financial Field and the tickets that Dougherty offered Henon to a 2015 Eagles game, which prosecutors have labeled as a bribe.
“Local 98 placed a high priority on business development,” Chupka said. “And one of the ways we market labor … [is attending] various sporting events with various guests.”
But as Costello quizzed Chupka on why the sales office at the sports venue had sent letters about the box addressed to Local 98, instead of the LMCC, he cut her off as she tried to explain that was her mistake and that the letters did not mean the money had come from the union’s general fund.
Chupka later told jurors that the LMCC received a grand jury subpoena as part of the FBI’s bribery investigation. But while she prepared the requested documents, she said, no one from the government ever came to pick them up.
Costello asked Chupka, who is a lawyer, whether she knew how grand jury subpoenas worked. Dougherty was later heard during a court break complaining that the whole line of questioning reeked of “elitism.”
At times, the defense witnesses pushed back on their own.
“Maybe you don’t understand the personal relationship side of things,” Democratic ward leader Brian Eddis remarked, as prosecutors questioned the role he played in watching over Henon after the FBI raided the councilmember’s office in 2016.
Eddis acknowledged that Dougherty had dispatched him to keep eyes on Henon. And in a wiretapped phone call from that time played in court, Henon asked Eddis whether Dougherty had sent him to “sit on” him.
Eddis later reported back to Local 98 political director Marita Crawford on meetings Henon held and who was coming in and out of his office.
But despite prosecutors’ suggestion that Eddis’ role was to make sure Henon didn’t say or do anything that might implicate him or Dougherty, the ward leader was adamant he was there as a friend, not a union mole.
“I was worried about him picking up a drink,” Eddis said. “If he fell off the ladder, John would want me to be there for him.”
As for Dougherty and Henon, Eddis added, everyone knows they’re “like brothers.”
“Bobby and John have a shared passion,” he said. “This isn’t a paycheck, it’s a passion for them.”
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