After a tow-truck driver tried to haul John Dougherty’s double-parked car from the Pennsport Mall in 2015, the labor leader didn’t want a refund. He wanted political payback.
“Bobby Henon’s going to put a bill in tomorrow,” he told an associate, vowing that his closest ally on City Council would mire the towing company in red tape and onerous legislation before he’d even discussed the idea with the councilmember.
When he did, five minutes later, his instructions to Henon were direct: “F — them to death.”
Prosecutors played recordings of those September 2015 calls from Dougherty in court Monday as they opened the third week of their federal bribery case against the labor leader and the city councilmember they’ve portrayed as his puppet.
Dougherty, longtime head of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, is accused of effectively buying Henon’s vote with a more than $70,000-a-year salary and then using the powers of the councilmember’s office to advance his personal and professional interests.
And while prosecutors spent the day playing more wiretaps of Dougherty making all manner of requests of his favorite councilmember, the line between presumptuous political favors sought by a friend and corrupt orders from a boss who had purchased such consideration with bribes wasn’t always so clear.
None of the calls played at trial so far explicitly link Henon’s union salary to the requests Dougherty made.
But prosecutors don’t need to show that the two ever defined the terms of such an agreement to secure a conviction. They must only prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was a bribe — and not just shared interests — that moved Henon to so often follow Dougherty’s instructions.
When Dougherty called up Henon for help with his towing situation, the councilmember agreed immediately but cited his own list of complaints about what he believed to be predatory practices in the city’s towing industry.
“I don’t abuse government at all,” Dougherty said in response. “But if they could do that to me, they’d do that to anybody.”
The closest that Monday’s recordings came to defining a clear quid pro quo occurred nearly a year before that towing incident. In a June 2015 call, Dougherty voiced displeasure at what little he felt Henon had accomplished for the union.
He complained to Local 98′s political director, Marita Crawford, that Henon wasn’t putting in enough face time at the union’s Spring Garden Street offices and was too close to the head of the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, with whom Dougherty had previously clashed.
“The f — g thing we ask [him] to do, [he] doesn’t do,” Dougherty said of Henon, telling Crawford later: “You have to hold him a little more accountable. That is your job.”
Later that same evening, she called Dougherty back to report that she had delivered the message and to recap her conversation with Henon.
“I said, ‘You better start focusing on some of the things [Dougherty] asked you to do,’” she recalled. “‘The message is: You have to be more accountable’”
It was unclear from the recording whether the obligations that Dougherty believed put Henon in his debt stemmed from, as prosecutors have alleged, the salary Local 98 was paying him, or, as the defense has previously maintained, the political support Dougherty and union members had lined up for Henon over the years.
Prosecutors have also alleged Dougherty had Henon back Mayor Jim Kenney’s signature soda tax in 2016 as a way of enacting revenge on the rival Teamster’s union, which was opposed to the bill.
And while it was Henon who introduced the legislation in Council, calls prosecutors played Monday showed Dougherty strategizing to make sure the bill passed.
In recording after recording, it was the labor leader suggesting tactics to Henon — and at times Kenney — for selling the bill to the public. It was Dougherty who instructed Henon on how to deal with complaints from the Teamsters, told him what meetings with Kenney and Council President Darrell L. Clarke he should force his way into, and even advised how to whip up votes in favor of the bill among Henon’s fellow council members.
Councilmember “Kenyatta [Johnson] probably needs … a little hug to give him incentive,” Henon told Dougherty in a call one month before the vote.
Dougherty was ready with a solution.
“Let him know that if you get this … there’s going to be a ton of major league jobs that his wife is qualified for,” he said.
(Both Johnson and his wife are facing separate federal corruption charges tied to allegations Johnson used the powers of his office to help a nonprofit in exchange for an employment contract for his wife. The couple has denied the charges.)
And when the soda tax bill eventually passed in June 2016, it was Dougherty — not Henon, the man who introduced the legislation — who received accolades.
A Philadelphia Magazine article dissecting the winners and losers of the soda tax fight listed Dougherty as winner No. 2 — behind Kenney. Henon received only a mention as Dougherty’s “closest ally on Council” in the piece.
Henon pointed that out while the two were reading the story together over the phone. ”I’m your alter-ego,” Dougherty said to console him.
In the days that followed, Henon would privately bemoan the perception among his constituents that he’d backed the bill only because Dougherty had told him to so and the negative reaction the new law had drawn in his Northeast Philadelphia district.
“If I only told him all the s — that people yell at me out on the street …. I’m getting crushed,” he told Crawford in one late-night call played Monday. “They’re breaking my balls about Johnny, [saying] ‘You ass-kisser.’”
Crawford agreed sympathetically, as Henon continued: “It does get a little depressing after a while.”
Testimony in the trial is expected to resume Tuesday.
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