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One of Johnny Doc’s closest allies has pleaded guilty weeks before the labor leader’s next trial — and she’s not alone

Marita Crawford, Local 98's longtime political director, became the first high-ranking member of the union to admit guilt since she, Dougherty, and five others were indicted in 2019.

Marita Crawford (left) and her lawyer Fortunato Perri Jr. leaving the federal courthouse in Philadelphia in February 2019.
Marita Crawford (left) and her lawyer Fortunato Perri Jr. leaving the federal courthouse in Philadelphia in February 2019.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

The political director of the city’s powerful electrician’s union and a close confidante of former labor leader John Dougherty pleaded guilty Monday to federal fraud charges, just weeks before she was scheduled to stand trial alongside him and four others accused of embezzling more than $600,000 from union coffers.

Marita Crawford, who has served as the face of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ influential political lobbying operation for more than a decade, resigned her position and admitted in court to using union finds to pay for a 2015 hotel stay on a personal trip to watch the Belmont Stakes and for pricey birthday dinners for herself and Dougherty.

The plea deal she struck will not require her to cooperate with investigators or testify against Dougherty or her codefendants at the trial set to begin in January. She faces up to 20 years in prison on each of the four felony counts of wire fraud to which she pleaded guilty. Her sentencing is scheduled for April.

Her decision makes her the first high-ranking official within Local 98 — and Dougherty’s notoriously tight-knit inner circle — to admit guilt since she and the other union officials and associates were charged with Dougherty in a sweeping embezzlement indictment in 2019.

And she may not be the last.

Prosecutors in recent weeks have approached all the defendants — including Local 98′s president, Brian Burrows, and Michael Neill, the head of its apprentice training program — with plea offers, hoping to wrap up much of the case before it is scheduled to go to trial, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the ongoing negotiations, said the move appears designed to also put pressure on Dougherty to strike a plea deal of his own and avoid a protracted courtroom fight.

And by Monday afternoon, another of Dougherty’s codefendants, union employee Niko Rodriguez, had also resigned and taken the government up on its offer, pleading guilty to six counts of embezzlement from a labor union.

Dougherty resigned his post as Local 98′s chief after his conviction on bribery charges alongside City Councilmember Bobby Henon last year. But he has denied wrongdoing and vowed to fight the embezzlement case and a third set of charges stemming from threats he allegedly made against a union contractor.

His rejection of previous plea offers led to his split from his longtime attorney Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. earlier this year.

Local 98 spokesperson Frank Keel said the union had no prior knowledge or influence over the decisions by Crawford or Rodriguez.

“We will have no further comment on this matter at this time, pending further developments,” he said.

» READ MORE: Labor leader John Dougherty still has more legal problems

Crawford, 53, is a well-known figure in Pennsylvania political circles and, at Dougherty’s side, helped to transform Local 98 into the largest independent source of campaign money and union influence in the state.

Local 98′s fund-raising and manpower have helped elect mayors — including Jim Kenney — and City Council members like Henon as well as members of Congress, state legislators, governors, and more than 60 judges, including Dougherty’s brother, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty.

She spent hours on the phone with the former union chief, strategizing over how to exert union influence over local and state elected officials in wiretapped phone conversations played during Dougherty and Henon’s bribery trial.

She said little during her plea hearing Monday in Reading before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Schmehl and declined to comment afterward.

Her lawyer, Fortunato Perri Jr., said Crawford hopes to move on with her life and put “these very difficult, difficult last few years behind her.”

“She has been a champion of the labor movement for the past several years, so she hopes to continue in her professional career moving forward,” he said.

Crawford’s felony convictions will bar her from working as a union official for 13 years under U.S. Department of Labor rules. She also agreed to repay nearly $12,000 in restitution to Local 98 as part of her agreement with prosecutors.

Still, it could have been far worse. She was initially charged with 11 counts including conspiracy, embezzlement of union funds, and falsifying labor union financial reports tied to the hundreds of thousands of dollars of union member dues investigators say she, Dougherty and the others spent on themselves.

» READ MORE: An FBI informant recorded Johnny Doc threatening ‘rats.’ His lawyers say that violated his rights.

In 2015 alone, they accused her of treating family members and friends to tickets and luxury suites at concerts for Taylor Swift, Bette Midler, and Billy Joel — together worth thousands of dollars — all on the union’s dime.

“You know the way we roll,” she was caught on a wiretap telling one family member when inviting him to one of those events.

Other alleged expenses included more than $500 in beauty and makeup services at the Waldorf Astoria’s salon during the annual Pennsylvania Society meeting in New York in 2014 and 2015 and $4,500 in gift cards to Boyd’s and Brooks Brothers that she and Dougherty purportedly spent to buy clothing for themselves.

Union money, investigators said, covered more than $2,370 in expenses on the 2015 personal trip she, Dougherty, and Dougherty’s father — John Sr. — took to the Belmont Stakes horse race in Elmont, N.Y.

It even allegedly paid for their birthday celebrations — for Dougherty, a nearly $1,400 shindig at Old Homestead Steak House at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City in 2015, a $425 catered meal from Francoluigi’s Pizzeria for his father the next year, and a $477 dinner at Palladino’s on Passyunk Avenue for Crawford in 2016.

But by far, most of what prosecutors accused Dougherty, Crawford, and the other union leaders of buying with embezzled union funds was surprisingly mundane.

» READ MORE: Johnny Doc allegedly bought some pretty mundane stuff with IBEW Local 98′s credit cards

For instance, they say Dougherty once spent $77 on Danielle Steele novels and decorating magazines to give to Crawford and his wife.

And Rodriguez, 31, the other Local 98 employee who pleaded guilty Monday, was often tasked, according to the indictment, with making those purchases.

Between 2014 and 2016 he allegedly racked up more than $4,000 in bills on union credit cards on for items such as diapers, cleaning supplies, breakfast cereal, home decor, and Christmas decorations for Dougherty and his family members on more than 33 trips to stores such as Target and Lowe’s Home Improvement.

His guilty plea included admissions only to roughly $1,080 worth of goods bought on the union’s dime. But he agreed to pay nearly $13,500 in restitution to Local 98 as part of his deal with prosecutors.

His attorney, Paul Hetznecker, said he intends “to establish what a remarkable young man [Rodriguez] is” during his April sentencing.

Prosecutors have described Rodriguez as one of three low-level Local 98 employees known as “the kids” whom Dougherty treated as his gofers — sending them on personal errands, shopping trips, and to look after his wife, Cecilia.

The others are Dougherty’s nephew Brian Fiocca, who is also charged in the case, and Crawford’s son, Tom Rodriguez, who is not related to Niko Rodriguez and was not indicted.

Their position within the union baffled Burrows, the union president, who was caught on a wiretap discussing them in 2015.

“It’s all smoke and mirrors with them kids,” he groused. “I don’t know what they do all day.”

And yet, as prosecutors tell it, Dougherty gave them plenty to do.

Days after that conversation, the union chief allegedly dispatched Rodriguez to power wash the sidewalks outside of his and his sister’s homes.

“Should I water the tomatoes while I’m here?” Rodriguez texted Dougherty, in an exchange quoted in the indictment.

Dougherty replied: “Yes !!!”