A longtime associate of Philadelphia Ironworkers Union boss Joseph Dougherty told a federal jury Thursday that he regularly briefed Dougherty about attacks on nonunion job sites and was never rebuked.
"Did Mr. Dougherty ever tell you not to do that work?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Livermore asked former Local 401 business agent Edward Sweeney.
"No," replied Sweeney, who testified against his 73-year-old boss under a guilty-plea agreement with prosecutors.
Sweeney, 55, was one of 11 Local 401 members indicted last year with Dougherty in what prosecutors allege was a racketeering conspiracy to protect union jobs through intimidation, arson, and violence.
All 11 have pleaded guilty in deals with the prosecution that could earn them leniency when they are sentenced by U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson.
Defense lawyer Fortunato N. Perri Jr. has argued that Dougherty had nothing to do with the violence and intimidating tactics against nonunion builders and subcontractors, dubbed "night work" within Local 401.
Perri has blamed the problem on rogue union members like Sweeney who made quick deals with prosecutors to blame Dougherty and escape decades-long prison terms.
Livermore has alleged that violence against nonunion contractors was welded into Local 401's culture and countenanced by Dougherty, although he was cagey enough to insulate himself.
Sweeney was the sixth cooperating ironworker to testify in the trial, which began Monday, but his longtime relationship with Dougherty arguably posed the greatest danger to the aging union boss.
Sweeney said Dougherty got him into the union and gave him his first job. And when Sweeney got married, "Joe Doc" walked his bride up the aisle and gave her away. Afterward, the two families shared Easter dinners for five years.
On Thursday, however, Sweeney got nothing but an occasional frown from his former mentor and was grilled over his motives for testifying by Perri.
Perri asked Sweeney about a conversation he purportedly had with Larry O'Donnell, a retired Local 401 business agent from a family of union ironworkers.
"Didn't you tell Larry O'Donnell a few months ago that you were going to come in here and blame it all on Joe Dougherty?" Perri asked.
Sweeney bristled at the question.
"All I said to him was that when you're the captain of the ship, you can't blame the navigator when you hit the iceberg," Sweeney responded.
Sweeney, who admitted he hoped to reduce a likely 35-year mandatory prison term, testified several hours before a courtroom mostly packed with ironworkers. Many were Dougherty supporters who carried on a running commentary in stage whispers.
Bearded and immaculately groomed and dressed in a blue business suit, Sweeney often seemed uneasy on the witness stand.
Dougherty's only significant reaction came not from Sweeney's testimony but from the FBI's recording of a Sept. 10, 2013, telephone call between him and Sweeney about a contractor who left a Center City job without paying into the union's health and pension funds.
Dougherty is heard exploding in a rant of profanity, obscenity, and suggested sexual acts. In court, Dougherty's face reddened and he buried it his hands.
Sweeney - who described Dougherty as tough, authoritarian, and a master of union politics - seemed to try to shield his ex-boss several times.
He said Dougherty's rough language was not unusual and acknowledged his own command of obscenity.
At another point, Livermore asked Sweeney about a July 2013 recorded call with Dougherty about a confrontation between union ironworkers and carpenters on a job site at 19th and Arch Streets in Center City.
Dougherty, expletives exploding, threatened to "shut the city down" by calling all 700 Local 401 members off the job and on picket lines at 19th and Arch as a show of strength.
"I mean, it sounds good," Sweeney told Livermore, "but a lot of it is testosterone talking."