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FBI agents raid Local 98’s Philly headquarters again, looking for evidence of threats and witness intimidation

The new search comes four years after a series of raids on homes and offices linked to the union that led to the indictment of labor leader John Dougherty.

An FBI agent enters the Spring Garden Street headquarters of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers on Friday in Philadelphia
An FBI agent enters the Spring Garden Street headquarters of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers on Friday in PhiladelphiaRead moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

Federal authorities once again raided the headquarters of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers on Friday — this time investigating allegations that union officials threatened violence against dissidents in their ranks following the indictment of labor leader John J. Dougherty last year.

Search warrants served on the union’s office on the 1700 block of Spring Garden Street and an apprentice training building on the same block sought evidence of potential crimes ranging from witness intimidation and embezzlement to conspiracy and unauthorized access to a computer, according to sources familiar with the matter who were not authorized to publicly discuss it.

FBI agents also sought information on how Local 98′s leaders responded to a now defunct website that disaffected union members used to share rumors and potentially damaging claims about Dougherty, known by his nickname “Johnny Doc,” and his inner circle.

It was not immediately clear whether Friday’s search was part of the ongoing federal bribery and embezzlement case against the labor leader, set for trial in January — or if it augured a new investigation with the potential for a fresh indictment.

Agents spent more than eight hours hauling equipment in and out of the buildings, snapping photos and seizing several cell phones of union employees, including Dougherty’s, before packing up and leaving just before 4 p.m.

The new search came four years after agents last visited Local 98′s headquarters as part of simultaneous raids on more than a dozen offices and homes connected to the union and its leadership. Evidence seized then ultimately resulted in the indictment filed in January 2019 against Dougherty and seven members of his inner circle, all of whom have denied wrongdoing and vowed to fight the case.

Joseph Cleary, a lawyer for Local 98, dismissed the raid as a “made-for-TV event” and touted Dougherty’s accomplishments for his union.

“John Dougherty has been under federal scrutiny for 28 years and has never once failed to cooperate,” he said in a statement. “Everything [agents] took today, they either took previously or could have simply asked for it and we would have turned it over.”

» READ MORE: Local 98 leader Johnny Doc, Councilman Bobby Henon charged in sweeping conspiracy case (from 2019)

Still, lawyers for Dougherty’s codefendants said Friday’s raid caught them off guard as they were not aware the FBI was actively pursuing fresh lines of investigation.

But while they tried to read between the lines of the warrants' sparse information to divine the focus of the new probe and its intended targets, much of the information contained in the document seemed to point toward the website and a defamation lawsuit Local 98 filed against one of its members this summer, saying he was the site’s administrator.

The FBI search warrants identified the website by name, seeking union communications about it and information on leaders' dealings with Lamb McErlane PC, the Chester County law firm that is representing Local 98 and two union business agents in that suit, according to sources who had reviewed the documents.

In court filings, union lawyers have accused Charles Battle, a longtime Local 98 member, of setting up the site with his wife and encouraging his colleagues to publicly defame Dougherty and others.

The site first appeared in June, while Battle was contemplating challenging Dougherty in internal union elections for his spot as business manager — a post the labor leader has held since 1993. Battle abruptly withdrew from the race before the union vote. The site was taken down after the union sued the Battles in August.

» READ MORE: Local 98 sues over anonymous website comments

The couple’s attorney, Clifford E. Haines, declined to comment on the FBI raid Friday. But he said Battle has reported “several troubling incidents” that occurred during his candidacy for union leadership to the Department of Labor and Local 98′s national parent organization.

“Regrettably, the conduct of Local 98 with respect to Mr. Battle is not something new,” Haines said. “There is a reason its membership will only speak out anonymously.”

Joseph R. Podraza Jr., the lawyer representing Local 98 in its suit against the couple, did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Friday’s search warrant also sought information on at least five other people, including Donald Siegel, the former IBEW international vice president for the region that includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and New York; Philip Migliarese III, a Fishtown business consultant whom the union has paid more than $118,000 in recent years; and Thomas Rodriguez, a union employee and son of Local 98′s indicted political director, Marita Crawford.

It did not specify whether those individuals were potential witnesses, victims, or targets of new charges.

Rodriguez’s name surfaced earlier in the federal investigation of Dougherty as one of three younger Local 98 members who the labor leader allegedly referred to as “the kids” routinely sent to perform chores and run personal errands for him on union time.

In the indictment filed against Dougherty last year, prosecutors said all three helped to embezzle more than $600,000 from union coffers, much of it to benefit Dougherty and other Local 98 members. Two of the three “kids” were charged alongside Dougherty, but Rodriguez was not.

» READ MORE: For leader John Dougherty, union-paid generosity began at home

Rodriguez was also present during a caught-on-camera fracas in December 2016 between Dougherty, members of his union, and nonunion electricians at a job site in South Philadelphia. That incident did not result in criminal charges, either.

Rodriguez’s attorney, William J. Brennan, declined to discuss the matter Friday. Neither Siegel nor Migliarese responded to requests for comment.

One name that did not appear on Friday’s warrants was Philadelphia City Councilmember Bobby Henon, and his lawyer was quick to proclaim that the FBI’s renewed interest in the union had nothing to do his client.

Federal prosecutors have accused Dougherty of bribing Henon for years with a union salary to buy his influence and Council vote on matters of interest to Local 98 — charges both men have forcefully denied.

In a statement Friday, Henon’s lawyer, Brian J. McMonagle, questioned the timing of the raid in proximity to the presidential election, though he did not provide any evidence to suggest the two were related. Nor did the union’s lawyer, Cleary, who made similar claims, saying the raid came two weeks after Local 98 endorsed Joe Biden’s candidacy.

The federal case lodged against Dougherty makes no allegations about his political work outside of his relationship with Henon, a union member. And the focus of Friday’s search warrants did not appear to have any political ties.

Despite the indictment hanging over his head, Dougherty remains a potent political force in and beyond the region’s politics. He has marshaled his union as a fund-raising and support wing primarily in favor of Democratic candidates.

Staff writer Anna Orso and Staff Photographer Tim Tai contributed to this article.