A South Philadelphia electrical contractor pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to making an illegal payment to electricians union leader John Dougherty.

Donald J. "Gus" Dougherty Jr., 42, president of Dougherty Electric, admitted in court that he had never intended to bill the union leader for the full value of renovations he made to John Dougherty's Pennsport home in 2004 and 2005.

Prosecutors valued the renovations at $115,600.

The government had charged that the contractor didn't bill John Dougherty for the work until after he became aware of a federal probe and the union leader requested an invoice.

Federal law bars a contractor from giving anything of value to an officer of a labor organization that represents the contractor's employees.

In exchange for the plea, the feds agreed to dismiss a charge that Gus Dougherty sold his North Wildwood condo to the union leader in October 2003 for more than $20,000 below its fair-market value.

U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno set sentencing for Aug. 15. Gus Dougherty remains free on $100,000 bail.

His attorney, Eric Sitarchuk, said that the plea agreement does not involve cooperation in the federal probe of John Dougherty and that his client would make no statements with respect to the union leader.

The two Doughertys are not related, though they have been pals since boyhood.

Jury selection in Gus Dougherty's trial was supposed to have begun yesterday.

The union leader was not charged in the Gus Dougherty case and has denied any wrongdoing.

Frank Keel, a spokesman for John Dougherty, issued a statement yesterday saying that Gus Dougherty's plea "validated" the union leader's public stance that "John Dougherty did nothing wrong and had no knowledge of Donald Dougherty's plans or activities."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anita Eve said Gus Dougherty's plea "should in no way be construed as an indication" that John Dougherty had done anything wrong.

Keel's statement added: "It is our hope that today's plea agreement ends any further investigation of or speculation about John Dougherty."

Federal prosecutors have said in court filings and in open court in the Gus Dougherty case that they are "pursuing" an active investigation of John Dougherty.

Gus Dougherty pleaded guilty last month to 98 counts of theft, bank bribery, tax evasion and related charges.

When Gus Dougherty was indicted last June, U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan described the condo deal and renovations done to John Dougherty's East Moyamensing Avenue rowhouse as "sweetheart deals."

Under advisory sentencing guidelines, Gus Dougherty could face from 41 to 51 months behind bars, although prosecutors said yesterday that they would argue only for a sentence at the low end of that range.

Dougherty is free to argue for a lesser sentence. *