The former head of the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment, a longtime ally of labor leader John J. Dougherty, pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal fraud and tax-evasion charges, making him the latest person in the embattled union chief’s orbit to admit to breaking the law.
But like those who have preceded him, James E. Moylan has not agreed to help prosecutors aiming to convict the man widely known as “Johnny Doc” at his upcoming embezzlement and bribery trial.
Moylan, a 57-year-old chiropractor, told a federal judge he stole nearly $49,000 between 2013 and 2016 from a nonprofit he controlled and the charitable arm of Dougherty’s union, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Prosecutors said he used the money to pay his mortgage, expenses from his business, and his personal bills for dinners, travel, and rounds of golf.
“He said he would use the funds for civic purposes; he used them otherwise,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul L. Gray said.
Moylan said little in court, nodding along as U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl led him through a series of questions regarding the consequences of his decision — including the possibility of a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for each of the 17 counts of wire fraud to which he pleaded guilty.
He declined to comment after the hearing. His lawyer, Joseph P. Capone, did not respond to requests for comment.
Moylan’s case sprang from the same years-long investigation of Local 98’s leadership that led to indictments earlier this year against Dougherty, City Councilman Bobby Henon, and seven other union members and allies.
And although the chiropractor was charged separately, his case also involved allegations of misspent Local 98 money.
According to his plea agreement, Moylan was serving as treasurer of 298 Inc., a union-backed charity, when he lobbied Dougherty in February 2013 to donate $25,000 to an independent nonprofit he founded to advocate for fairer tax policy in the city.
But instead of injecting the money as promised into the debate surrounding the city’s efforts to fix its broken property-tax system, Moylan withdrew it and spent it on himself. Most of a subsequent $25,000 check from 298 Inc. in April and $7,000 in 2016 also went toward paying Moylan’s bills.
Prosecutors — who have not accused Dougherty of involvement in Moylan’s theft — said the chiropractor also hid nearly $300,000 in income from the IRS between 2012 and 2016 by claiming bills from his daughter’s wedding, her college, and his gym memberships as business expenses.
Although Moylan is not a member of Dougherty’s union, the two men have shared close ties for more than two decades. In fact, it was Dougherty who encouraged Moylan to move to Pennsport and set up his practice there in the early 2000s and both have remained active in the neighborhood ever since.
Both men have served as chairmen of the Pennsport Civic Association as well as the Interstate Land Management Corp., a taxpayer-funded nonprofit formed to maintain parcels of state-owned land near I-95 along the Delaware River.
Moylan has worked as a paid political consultant for Local 98. And when a fight broke out between nonunion bricklayers and Dougherty and members of his union in 2014 — just blocks from Moylan’s South Third Street office — it was the chiropractor who spoke in the union leader’s defense.
Mayor Jim Kenney appointed Moylan in February 2016 to lead the zoning board, a five-member panel that plays a vital role in shaping city development and grants exceptions to building restrictions. But he resigned the post nine months later, after his connection to the FBI’s probe of Dougherty became known with a series of coordinated raids on the offices and homes of union allies later that year.
Moylan’s guilty plea Wednesday came five months after another Dougherty ally, New Jersey electrical contractor George Peltz, was sentenced to 1½ years in prison after admitting he provided the union chief nearly $57,000 in home and office improvements at no cost.
Court filings surrounding Peltz’s plea said that he, too, had not agreed to testify against Dougherty or other union officials.
Dougherty is charged with bribing City Councilman Henon and embezzling money from Local 98’s coffers along with his codefendants. He has denied the allegations and vowed to take his case to trial.
Schmehl, the judge presiding over the case, has not set a trial date.