Lawyers for labor leader John Dougherty and Philadelphia City Councilmember Bobby Henon kicked off their defense Tuesday with an exhortation of the virtues of their union and a small victory in their effort to attack the government’s case in the federal bribery trial.
Responding to a defense motion, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl dismissed one of the charges Dougherty had been facing: a count tied to an alleged scheme in which prosecutors say Henon helped squash an audit of the Philadelphia Parking Authority in exchange for a bribe of free home windows.
But the judge refused to go any further, agreeing with prosecutors that they had put forth enough evidence to justify letting the jury decide all of the remaining counts.
And so, after the government officially rested its case, Dougherty’s defense team began calling a series of witnesses it hopes will sway the panel to its side.
First up was James Foy — an assistant business manager for the union — who extolled the strides Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers had taken under nearly three decades of Dougherty’s leadership.
Membership has more than doubled, he testified, while wages and benefits have nearly tripled, from roughly $38 an hour in 1995 to $106 today.
Those rates make Local 98 one of the highest-paid electricians’ locals in the nation and one that controls what Foy estimated to be 75% to 80% of the market share of all electrical work in the city.
It’s become one of the “elite locals” in the country, he said — as capable of demonstrating its considerable clout by organizing for pro-union political candidates as it is building relationships with community and business leaders, sometimes through invitations to the luxury boxes it maintains at the city’s sports stadiums.
“John always said, ‘If you want to level the playing field with a Fortune 500 company, they have to see you as the same as they are. When you walk around those [sporting venues,] all the other boxes are owned by companies that we do business with,” Foy testified.
James Dollard, Local 98′s onetime safety coordinator, credited the union for being at the forefront of curbing the encroachment into the city of unlicensed, unpermitted, and sometimes unsafe electrical work by nonunion contractors.
“When it comes to codes and standards and safety,” he said, “you’re either on the right side of that line or on the wrong side of it.”
As for Henon, Tuesday’s witnesses described him as a staunch advocate for all unions and a dedicated Local 98 employee who earned his paycheck there as a liaison to other trade groups and by helping to raise money for candidates endorsed by Local 98.
Ryan Boyer, president of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council and the head of the Laborers’ District Council, testified that he considered the councilmember his “go-to guy” on matters of government-labor relations.
“He had access to the most relevant information,” Boyer said. “So, he was very important in my world.”
When it came to lobbying for the soda tax in 2015, Boyer said, Henon was among several on Council he contacted for support.
“It’s about relationships … and I used those relationships to try to pass a policy we thought was good for Philadelphia,” Boyer said.
“That’s how politics work?” asked Dougherty attorney Henry E. Hockeimer Jr., who has repeatedly cast his client as a connected and sought-after power player in City Hall rather than having illegal sway on Council.
Boyer responded: “That’s definitely how politics work.”
But as the cavalcade of defense witnesses continued, prosecutors sought to keep the focus back to the facts alleged in their case.
They’ve accused Dougherty of essentially buying himself a councilmember by paying Henon a $70,000-a-year salary for a do-nothing job. In return, they maintain, Henon used the powers of his elected office to advance Dougherty’s personal and professional interests.
For instance, they allege Henon used his influence over the Department of Licenses & Inspections to pressure city inspectors in 2015 to halt work on the installation of MRI machines at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, after Local 98 members discovered it was being done by nonunion contractors.
It was Dollard who notified L&I about the work at CHOP in July of that year. But he maintained Tuesday that the issue wasn’t union vs. nonunion; it was about safety and following the city’s rules.
“They come into Philadelphia, break all the laws, pay no permit or license fees, pay no city wage and they move on,” he wrote in an email shown to jurors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Barrett quizzed Dollard on cross-examination as to whether Local 98 members would have been capable of carrying out the work instead, given the complex and intricate nature of the machinery and the manufacturers’ requirement that it be installed by a preapproved contractor to avoid invalidating the warranties.
“We could install it,” Dollard insisted. “But we couldn’t operate it.”
Assistant U.S Attorney Bea Witzleben, meanwhile, noted that Local 98′s complaints to L&I often first passed through Henon’s desk.
But while raising that point with Foy, the union leader pushed back at any suggestion that Local 98 went to him knowing he would act in its interests.
“I think our agents would have reached out to anybody that would listen,” he said.
Witzleben also accused Henon of sharing nonpublic information he had access to as a councilmember about upcoming opportunities for work with Local 98 representatives.
But Foy seemed to struggle when asked whether Henon, in those moments, was acting as an elected city official or as an employee of the union.
“The problem was,” Foy replied, “it was hard for me to decipher when he was wearing what hat.”
Witzleben, perhaps feeling her point had been made for her, quietly nodded and moved on.
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