Union official and councilman at the same time, Bobby Henon crossed the line, prosecutors say
Federal indictments paint Councilman Bobby Henon as abusing his power on behalf of his union.
Bobby Henon never made any secret about his dual loyalties. While making $140,000 a year as a City Council member, he has also been paid more than $73,000 annually as a top official of the Electricians union local led by John J. Dougherty.
All perfectly legal. But according to a federal indictment made public Wednesday, Henon, 50, a Democratic Council member since 2011, crossed the line into criminality as he used his Council clout to muscle Comcast Corp. on behalf of his union — and even plotted revenge on a towing company that had the nerve to seize Dougherty’s car.
Here is a look at some of the schemes cited in the indictment.
A key role
In late 2015, Henon chaired a Council panel — the Public Property and Public Works Committee — that was ideal for a man with his labor credentials. He played a vital role in negotiating a new cable-TV franchise agreement with Comcast Corp. on behalf of Philadelphia’s 1.5 million residents.
But according to the indictment, Henon was also negotiating on behalf of one other important constituent: Dougherty.
In presumably taped conversations and captured texts, Dougherty and Henon bantered about what they could wring out of Comcast. Specifically, Dougherty was interested in lining up contract work for MJK Electric, owned by George Peltz, who was indicted Monday for allegedly showering Dougherty with almost $70,000 in gifts and freebies.
At the time, Comcast was anxious to strike a franchise deal with City Hall, to show Wall Street and other cities negotiating similar deals with the cable giant that it would not lose its hometown market. But Comcast would have to first get past the committee chaired by Henon. And Dougherty made it clear that he viewed Henon as an extension of the union.
“That is why you are over there ... for one reason – to put you on public property to fight a giant,” he said.
Henon told Dougherty not to worry, that he would delay moving the Comcast franchise agreement through the committee until Dougherty got what he wanted.
Henon held a meeting in his Council chambers with Dougherty and Comcast negotiators. Dougherty, not Henon, ran the meeting, according to the indictment. He warned that if Comcast did not agree to hire MJK, Council would stall the franchise deal.
Dougherty and Henon met again later with Comcast negotiators. At the meeting, they pressed Comcast to hire MJK. In the end, Comcast agreed it would — at 25 percent more than the rate it paid nonunion labor.
A week later, Henon voted in favor of the franchise agreement, and Council approved the agreement.
As a result of the deal, Comcast hired MJK for two projects in 2016, paying it $2.2 million, the indictment says.
A halted MRI project
In the summer of 2015, prosecutors contend, Dougherty and Henon interfered with the installation of two MRI machines at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia because the work was being done by nonunion labor.
In July, Dougherty called a CHOP administrator to complain that his union had not been able to bid on the project. The administrator told him the MRIs had to be installed by the manufacturer or the warranty would be invalid, according to the indictment.
Dissatisfied, Dougherty warned, “It is also an L&I violation. You don’t want a city thing shutting it down."
>> INFOGRAPHIC: Who’s indicted, and what are the charges?
Shortly after the warning, Henon filed a complaint with the Department of Licenses and Inspections. L&I inspectors issued a stop-work order but ultimately reversed it, allowing installation to continue.
That August, Dougherty learned that nonunion electricians were installing a second MRI unit at CHOP. He relayed the information to Henon. Again, L&I intervened, the indictment says.
After inspecting the site, the department issued another stop-work order.
CHOP declined to comment Wednesday. It was unclear if the second MRI installation was completed.
Pressure on Verizon
As he faced reelection in 2015, the indictment says, Henon tied his many of his actions on Council to campaign contributions, making only clumsy efforts to separate the two.
In an apparently wiretapped phone call, the councilman called an unnamed official of the Communications Workers of America and pressed him for a donation of at least $5,000. In a separate call two minutes later, he offered his help to the union in its negotiations with Verizon.
In the weeks that followed, union officials urged Henon to summon Verizon executives in for a public hearing and “make them sweat a little bit.” “This is our opportunity to give them a black eye,” an unidentified union official said.
>> DOCUMENT: Read the full Johnny Doc, IBEW Local 98 indictment
Henon did hold such a hearing, ostensibly to explore Verizon’s progress fitting Philadelphia with fiber-optic cable. At the hearing, the indictment notes, Henon ripped into the company. “I have no faith and confidence that the information I am getting is the truth,” he said.
The CWA, which was not charged in the case, ended up giving Henon’s campaign fund $15,000 in 2015 and 2016. Edward Mooney, its vice president in charge of Pennsylvania operations, didn’t return calls.
Richard J. Young, a Verizon spokesperson, said in an email that the firm would have no comment.
$210 and no change
In September 2015, Dougherty discovered that a tow truck driver had pulled his car onto a truck. The operator refused to release the vehicle until Dougherty paid $200 in cash.
The driver didn’t have change, so Dougherty ended up paying $10 extra.
Ticked off, Dougherty called Henon and told him to introduce legislation requiring tow truck drivers to go through training.
“That $10 is going to cost their f—ing industry a bundle,” Dougherty said, according to the indictment.
“Just tell them you have heard nothing but complaints,” he added. “Just smoke ‘em.”
Several days later, Henon had his staff draft a bill to launch a city investigation “for the purposes of protecting the general welfare and public interest of the residents of Philadelphia.” It’s unclear what happened to the bill.