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3 more expected to plead in Ironworkers case

Jury selection is scheduled to start today. Only one defendant is expected to face trial now.

AND THEN there was one.

At least that's what is expected to happen today in the big federal trial of members of the local Ironworkers union.

Four remaining defendants had been expected to head to trial with jury selection starting today, but now three are expected to enter guilty pleas this morning.

So that leaves one standing: Ironworkers Local 401's former longtime head, Joseph Dougherty, 73, who is expected to be the lone defendant facing a Jan. 5 trial, after jury selection this week.

Co-defendants Christopher Prophet, William O'Donnell and Richard Ritchie had been scheduled for trial with Dougherty, but instead they are scheduled for change-of-plea hearings before U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson, according to notices filed yesterday in the federal court system.

Prophet's attorney, Timothy Tarpey, said yesterday that Prophet will plead guilty to racketeering conspiracy and extortion.

Ritchie's attorney, Jack McMahon, said his client will plead guilty to two counts - violent crime in aid of racketeering and extortion.

O'Donnell's attorney, Gregory Pagano, did not return a call seeking comment yesterday afternoon. O'Donnell faces charges of racketeering conspiracy and extortion.

Meanwhile, Dougherty's attorney, Fortunato "Fred" Perri Jr., confirmed that his client will head to trial.

"We've said all along that Mr. Dougherty maintains his innocence and he continues to maintain his innocence regardless of the number of co-defendants who decide to enter guilty pleas," Perri said yesterday.

The feds have contended that Ironworkers members engaged in a pattern of racketeering crimes, including arson and extortion to force or attempt to force nonunion contractors to hire their members. They have said in court documents that Dougherty ran the union with an "iron fist."

According to the feds, Prophet, a former business agent in the suburbs, had in 2010 organized the picketing of a construction site for a Toys "R" Us store near the King of Prussia Mall. Union members then sabotaged the site and three union members or associates, including Ritchie, later assaulted some of the nonunion workers with baseball bats, causing serious injury, the feds said.

And the feds have alleged that O'Donnell participated in the extortions of contractors who did not hire Ironworkers members.

Eight other defendants already have pleaded guilty in the case, including two other former business agents, Edward Sweeney and Francis Sean O'Donnell.

Six of the eight had been charged by indictment along with Dougherty, Ritchie, William O'Donnell and Prophet in February. Two other defendants later were charged by criminal information, which indicated that they were likely to plead guilty.