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Wiretaps show John Dougherty repeatedly relied on Councilmember Henon for help. But did he have to ask?

As Dougherty's bribery trial continues, prosecutors played dozens of the labor leader's wiretapped phone calls, showing him turning to Henon for help in disputes with rivals big and small.

Johnny Dougherty entering the federal courthouse. Federal trial Johnny Dougherty head of IBEW 98 and Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon on Wednesday.
Johnny Dougherty entering the federal courthouse. Federal trial Johnny Dougherty head of IBEW 98 and Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon on Wednesday.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

Prosecutors have said those who crossed labor leader John Dougherty soon learned there would be consequences. And on the third day of his federal bribery trial, they sought to show it was one man who often delivered them: his codefendant, City Councilmember Bobby Henon.

When Dougherty learned, for instance, that nonunion contractors were installing MRI machines at a local hospital in 2015, he told members of his electrician’s union to call Henon and predicted the Department of Licenses & Inspections was “going to shut them down.”

That same year, when Dougherty took offense to a political ad paid for by a rival union, he told others: “Let me tell you what Bobby Henon’s going to do. They’re going to start to put a tax on soda … and that’ll cost the Teamsters a hundred jobs in Philly.”

And when he felt another union had interfered with his brother Kevin’s 2015 campaign for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Dougherty was confident that they, too, would pay a price.

“Bobby Henon,” he said, “is delivering that message.”

Those conversations — caught on FBI wiretaps — were played for jurors Wednesday as prosecutors, for a second day, sought to use the union leader’s phone calls to prove their case that Henon served as Dougherty’s puppet on Council, bought with a series of bribes including a $70,000-a-year union salary.

In dozens of clips introduced from the witness stand by FBI Special Agent Jason Blake, Dougherty came across as prone to anger over slights big and small and deft at whipping up support from political and labor allies.

But while the calls showed Dougherty as eager to explain to others “what Bobby [was] going to do” for him, few of the calls played Wednesday showed the labor leader directly instructing the councilmember to do anything — a point Dougherty’s lawyer Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. was quick to note.

“Nowhere in here is Mr. Dougherty telling Mr. Henon what to do,” he said, while cross-examining Blake on one of the calls played earlier. “It all sort of arises from what Bobby’s saying he’s going to do.”

In many instances, Dougherty never had to ask.

After a political action committee backed by the Teamsters and the carpenters’ unions aired an attack ad in 2015 questioning Dougherty’s backing of then-mayoral candidate Jim Kenney, Henon texted the labor leader the next morning.

“I just saw the Carpenters and Teamsters commercial with you in it,” he wrote. “I’m going to f — them big time, just so you know. … I will be smart about it, but there will be consequences.”

That revenge, prosecutors say, came in the form of threats to introduce a soda tax bill that year, a proposal the Teamsters had vocally opposed.

Dougherty replied with a smiley-face emoji.

Other wiretap excerpts played Wednesday centered around a series of dust-ups that same year.

As Dougherty was running to replace the retiring head of the Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council, an umbrella organization made up of the heads of the city’s labor unions, he worried the plumbers’ union wouldn’t back him.

In a flurry of phone calls on the day of the vote, Henon told others his plan to pressure them by introducing a separate bill to update the city’s plumbing code — a revision he knew they intended to fight.

“It’s internal trade politics,” he told former State Rep. Bill Keller on a call discussing the matter. “What I was going to do was kind of disguise it in the middle of everything. … Because the plumbers are being total [expletive] against John.”

Dougherty ultimately won the Building Trades vote. The plumbers voted against him.

But, noted Dougherty lawyer Terence M. Grugan Wednesday while cross-examining Blake: “John Dougherty did not tell Bobby Henon what to do … he asks the councilman.”

Blake couldn’t say whether Henon actually introduced the bill as he threatened to do. But the update to the plumbing code wasn’t passed by Council until almost two-and-a-half years later.

The response came much more swiftly when later in 2015, Dougherty sought to stop the installation of MRI machines by nonunion workers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Within days of Dougherty instructing his union members to contact Henon — at the time, the councilmember with oversight of L&I — the department had issued a stop-work order at the site.

That, Henon told Dougherty on a phone call hours later, “was me.”

The trial is expected to continue Thursday with further defense cross-examination of Blake and efforts to challenge the prosecution’s interpretation of what the wiretap excerpts show.

But throughout Wednesday’s proceedings, Dougherty sat quietly at the defense table as his voice rang out from the courtroom speakers. During breaks, he worked the room, pausing to glad-hand and crack jokes with spectators in the gallery.

As for what he thought of the trial so far?

“Two days of nonsense,” he said.

Staff writer Sean Collins Walsh contributed to this article.

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