Raided South Philadelphia sporting goods store produced mostly campaign clothing
It's named KO Sporting Goods. But instead of selling hoops and hockey sticks, the South Philadelphia store that federal agents raided Wednesday has operated like a T-shirt factory for the politically connected.
It's named KO Sporting Goods.
But instead of selling hoops and hockey sticks, the South Philadelphia store that federal agents raided Wednesday has operated like a T-shirt factory for the politically connected.
The city controller, city and state judicial candidates, and a half-dozen Pennsylvania lawmakers.
Former District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, former Mayor John F. Street, Gov. Rendell, and even President Obama.
KO Sporting Goods has aided them all, producing tens of thousands of dollars worth of campaign T-shirts, hats, and other paraphernalia, according to campaign-finance records.
Opened in 1975, the store is co-owned by Mark C. Olkowski, whose home the FBI also visited Wednesday, and veteran state Democratic Sen. William F. Keller, whose South Philadelphia district office was raided as well. The pair are longtime childhood friends.
It's unclear why federal investigators are interested in KO Sporting Goods.
The FBI and the IRS are looking at whether money from Keller's political action committee was used for noncampaign purposes, according to two sources familiar with the investigation. Authorities are also scrutinizing finances related to two nonprofits: the South Philadelphia Area Revitalization Corp. (SPARC), a taxpayer-funded nonprofit established by Keller, and Friends of Dickinson Square, a nonprofit linked to Mulgrew before he was elected a judge, according to a source with direct knowledge of the investigation.
KO Sporting Goods - the storefront sign now reads KO Printed Sportswear - is deep in South Philly, at Moyamensing Avenue and McKean Street, and it looks like a slightly messy office inside. A sign on the door Thursday read, "Open, please come in," but the door was locked. The sign listed a cell-phone number for someone named Mark, but the last two digits had fallen off or been removed.
In recent years, the store's biggest customer by far has been one of the city's labor giants, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, whose business manager is John J. "Johnny Doc" Dougherty. The union, through its political committee, is also the single largest contributor to Keller's campaigns, having given him $587,000 since 2002.
In 2008, the union's political action committee spent $151,666 at KO Sporting Goods and contributed $245,000 - much of it in chunks of $25,000 and $50,000 - to Keller's state Senate campaign committee, almost half of what the committee collected in total.
Keller spent nearly $25,000 on fund-raisers he held that year at Doc's Union Pub at 1843 S. Second St., a building Dougherty owns. The pub is partially owned by Brian Burrows, president of Local 98.
In all, campaign-finance records show, the union's PAC has paid KO Sporting Goods $345,000 since 2007 - mostly for campaign materials for the union's favored candidates.
Keller did not return a call Thursday. His attorney, Fortunato N. Perri Jr., said, "I can't comment about the political relationship other than to say that both men are very close friends."
In an interview, Dougherty said he routinely did business at KO Sporting Goods because it did a good job. "They give you a good price. They understand your product. They are union-friendly. They think like us and live in the same world we do. . . . Who are we supposed to use, our enemies?"
He said he didn't turn to the store for just T-shirts - as campaign records state - but also for hooded sweatshirts, long-sleeve shirts, baseball caps, scarves, and more. The clothing, Dougherty said, "turns into walking billboards. It is great recognition for union-endorsed candidates."
Asked about the union's heavy donations to Keller, Dougherty said, "Not only does he think like us, he has become the point person on a majority of the issues statewide" for the IBEW.
Some of the bills the union ran up at the sporting-goods store were in support of Dougherty himself. For instance, the store received two payments totaling more than $55,000 for T-shirts it produced promoting Dougherty's failed campaign in 2008 to succeed Vincent J. Fumo in the Pennsylvania Senate.
A separate PAC, DJD '07, established to support Dougherty when he considered a mayoral run in 2007, paid KO Sporting Goods $6,786 on Aug. 4 of that year.
Some days were particularly fruitful for the store. On Feb. 17, 2006, for instance, Local 98's PAC paid bills for several candidates: Mike Sullivan, running for Traffic Court ($2,493); Abraham, running for district attorney ($2,493); Alan Butkovitz, for city controller ($2,493); Mike Driscoll, for City Council ($2,771); and Russell Nigro and Sandra Schultz Newman ($2,493 each), both for the state Supreme Court.
The union also picked up a $25,000 tab for shirts and other materials in support of Obama in the days before the 2008 general election. In May, the union paid $17,377 for materials for U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (D., Pa.), who lost his primary bid.
Other big-name customers over the years have included Rendell, whose gubernatorial campaign in 2002 spent $24,715, and City Councilman James Kenney, who bought $1,700 worth of merchandise in 2006.
Olkowski, reached at his home, declined to comment Thursday.
Campaign Clothing Purchases
Purchases by Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers at KO Sporting Goods since 2007.
SOURCE: Philadelphia campaign-finance reports