The former head of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses & Inspections testified Tuesday that labor leader John Dougherty once threatened during a contentious 2015 meeting over alleged code violations at a controversial building site that he could “have [him] replaced.”
Taking the witness stand at Dougherty’s federal bribery trial, Carlton Williams — who served as head of the department between 2012 and 2015 under former Mayor Michael Nutter — said he had been called to the meeting with City Councilmember Bobby Henon to discuss construction of the Goldtex building at 12th and Wood Streets, a project that had stoked considerable strife within the organized labor community.
Instead, Williams told jurors, he arrived to find Dougherty, who did all the talking, while Henon sat mostly quiet.
The union chief urged L&I to investigate Goldtex and potentially shut down work at the site, but in the same breath, Williams said, Dougherty suddenly steered the conversation to the 2013 Salvation Army building collapse at 22nd and Market Streets — a deadly incident that had prompted questions about Williams’ continued leadership of the department overseeing building construction in the city.
“He said it was a ‘real tragedy,’ and that the city bore some of the responsibility,” Williams said. “He said to me he could have me replaced. I took it as a … threat.”
Williams’ account of that meeting kicked off the second week of the government’s case against Dougherty, leader of the politically powerful Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and Henon, a former union electrician who prosecutors say allowed Dougherty to buy his vote on Council in exchange for a $70,000-a-year union salary.
But while the day saw testimony from two of the most highly placed government officials to testify yet — Williams, who now serves as chief of the city’s Streets Department under Mayor Jim Kenney, as well as Christopher Creelman, a former top deputy in Henon’s Council office — neither witness offered prosecutors or the defense exactly what they might have hoped.
Williams, for instance, maintained that despite what he saw as Dougherty’s attempts to intimidate him in 2015, he and his staff carried out their duties professionally and without favoritism.
L&I inspectors investigated the Goldtex site soon after that meeting with Dougherty but ultimately found his allegations of code violations to be unfounded.
And when in June of that year, Local 98 hung large banners outside its Spring Garden offices supporting the primary campaigns of Mayor Kenney and Dougherty’s brother, Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty, L&I didn’t hesitate to cite them for doing so without permits, Williams said.
Similarly, when Henon, also in 2015, forwarded a complaint from members of Local 98 that nonunion workers were installing MRI machines at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia without proper permits, the “stop work” order L&I ultimately issued stemmed from the inspector’s independent conclusions — not pressure from Henon or anyone with the union, Williams said.
That account differed from the one prosecutors presented last week. They’ve cited the incident as one of several official acts Henon took on Dougherty’s behalf and alleged that Henon, who was then the councilmember with oversight of L&I, leaned on the department to stop work at CHOP at Dougherty’s demand.
Last week, jurors heard testimony from Robert Donsky, the L&I inspector who responded to the complaint. He said he initially decided not to stop the work at CHOP after concluding the contractors didn’t need any special permits or licenses. But his decision was later overruled by his supervisor, after discussing the matter directly with Williams, Donsky said.
On Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Costello Jr. asked Williams directly whether he told his staff to issue the “stop work” order at CHOP in contradiction with Donsky’s professional assessment.
“No, I did not,” Williams responded. “It was the inspectors. … They consulted and discussed it with me.”
Still, as Williams described it, Henon was one of the most prolific councilmembers when it came to calling in complaints about construction projects across the city — many of them outside of his Northeast Philadelphia district and several tied to electrical work of concern to Dougherty’s union.
Between 2014 and 2015 alone, his complaints sent L&I inspectors scrambling to investigate alleged violations involving CHOP, the Goldtex building, construction at the Westin Hotel in Center City, and the installation of LED screens at Lincoln Financial Field.
Henon’s lawyer, Brian J. McMonagle, was quick to point out, however, that in several of those instances L&I investigations produced results adverse to the interests of Dougherty and his union.
“You did your job?” McMonagle asked Williams as his testimony concluded, drawing a nod of assent from the commissioner. “Keep doing it.”
Still, the day’s other main witness — Creelman, who worked as Henon’s district director between 2012 and 2017 — said it was unusual that the councilmember took such an interest in potential L&I violations outside his district, when normally those complaints would be forwarded to the appropriate colleague on Council.
“It was an unwritten rule … that you didn’t fish in someone else’s pond,” he said. “You didn’t want to go into someone else’s district, because that person [complaining] couldn’t vote for you anyway.”
But that was hardly the only thing Creelman said he found different about working for Henon.
For instance, staffers were instructed to use email accounts associated with Henon’s campaign to discuss city business instead of their government-designated accounts — a policy, Creelman said, Henon incorrectly believed would shield their communications from court subpoenas.
He also let a lobbyist for Local 98 work out of his office on days of Council meetings and had routine check-ins with Local 98′s political director, Marita Crawford, before them.
But when prosecutors asked how often Dougherty made an appearance at Henon’s office, Creelman shrugged.
“Maybe a handful of times in five years?” he ventured. “Maybe four or five times.”
However, a series of 2016 raids on Henon’s City Hall office and more than a dozen sites affiliated with Local 98 — the first public sign of federal authorities’ investigation — dramatically shifted the mood among his staff, Creelman said.
In the days after, staffers were invited to a “team-building exercise” at the Masonic Temple across from City Hall, at which, Henon repeated multiple times that he’d done nothing wrong.
“It started off as a team-building exercise,” Creelman said. “But it eventually got sidetracked into whether we’d been contacted by the FBI and if anyone had interviews coming up.”
Creelman told jurors Henon and his chief of staff, Courtney Voss, persistently pumped him for information in the weeks that followed on whether investigators had reached out.
“I would tell them that I hadn’t had any meetings yet,” he said, acknowledging that he lied to his bosses at the time. “I didn’t want to make an uncomfortable situation more uncomfortable.”
As for what Creelman did tell the FBI, Dougherty’s lawyers pressed him on cross-examination to acknowledge he hadn’t been able to cite one instance in which he witnessed the union chief demanding anything of Henon.
In fact, defense attorney Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. asked, “you never saw Mr. Dougherty pressure Mr. Henon to do anything?”
Creelman responded: “That’s correct.”
Testimony in the case is expected to resume Wednesday.
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