Indicted labor leader John J. Dougherty could face two criminal trials next year if his codefendants have their way.
Several top officials in his electricians’ union, all codefendants in Dougherty’s federal case, urged a judge on Wednesday to try them separately for allegations that they embezzled more than $600,000 in union funds. They argued that their purported misdeeds have little to do with the additional accusations Dougherty faces of bribing Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon.
- Can a paycheck be a bribe? Johnny Doc’s lawyers say no, push to dismiss case involving a Council member.
- ‘Johnny Doc’ blasts case against him and Councilman Henon in bid to have corruption charges thrown out
- ‘I got a different world than most people’: Indictment alleges theft, abuse of power by Johnny Doc and Local 98 leaders
Thomas A. Bergstrom, lawyer for union president Brian Burrows, said that dealing with both sets of allegations in one trial could unfairly damage his client’s chances before a jury.
“We have two separate and distinct conspiracies,” Bergstrom told U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl. “You cannot run from that fact. … There is absolutely no overlap between them. The only overlap in this case is Mr. Dougherty.”
Schmehl made no decision by the end of the proceeding Wednesday. But his ruling, expected within weeks, will shape the course of one of the city’s highest-profile federal prosecutions in years.
The 59-year-old labor leader known as “Johnny Doc” was charged in January along with Henon and six other officials and allies of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
The two-pronged indictment alleges that Dougherty and the union leaders enriched themselves for years with hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for union use.
A second section details Dougherty’s long-standing relationship with Henon, alleging that the labor leader effectively bought the councilman’s support and votes on key issues with a union salary and tickets to sporting events.
Dougherty has denied both sets of charges and vowed to fight them no matter how many trials that may take. He said nothing during Wednesday’s hearing but acknowledged through his lawyers that he did not oppose the two-trial plan.
Prosecutors, however, pushed back.
Both the embezzlement and bribery claims, Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank R. Costello said, “involve the misuse of Local 98 assets for the benefit of the defendants. ... They’re all part of the same series of actions. They’re all for the same common goal. … Local 98 was cheated in every case.”
Costello argued that just like the money allegedly embezzled directly by Dougherty and the other union officials, the funds devoted to Henon’s $73,131-a-year salary and his Eagles tickets could have been put toward legitimate union expenses.
Instead, he maintained, that cash was used to benefit Dougherty and enabled him to use Henon’s office to advance his own personal and professional interests.
Still, lawyers for Dougherty’s codefendants pointed to one other distinction between the allegations against their clients and the ones involving solely Dougherty and Henon — hours of FBI wiretaps.
Bergstrom, in court filings, argued that the recorded conversations — many of which were detailed in the initial indictment — expose nakedly political machinations between the labor leader and the councilman that could sour a jury against all of the codefendants.
In one conversation, Dougherty purportedly balked at news that the city in 2015 was close to approving a renegotiated franchise agreement with Comcast without seeking his approval first.
“Without an agreement from me?” Dougherty complained to Henon, according to court filings. “What the hell? That doesn’t do me any good. That is why you are over there.”
In another, Dougherty allegedly urged Henon to use his sway over the Department of Licenses and Inspections to block work by nonunion contractors to install an MRI machine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“These statements shock the conscience and paint Mr. Henon as a corrupt tool of Mr. Dougherty,” Bergstrom said. “The allegations imply a profound breach of public trust and are sure to be presented to the jury at a joint trial.”
For his part, Henon — who was not charged in the embezzlement portion of the case — has joined in the push for two trials.
“Everybody’s got a right to a fair trial,” said Henon’s lawyer, Brian McMonagle. Henon shouldn’t “have to deal with an embezzlement case that he’s got nothing to do with.”