In the intertwined worlds of Philadelphia politics, business, unions and industry, one figure who has consistently emerged for years as a shadowy power broker is the legendary John Dougherty – aka Johnny Doc, who has been reputed to possess the power to make or break politicians’ careers.
After federal prosecutors announced charges of fraud, embezzlement and corruption last week against Doc and eight associates, including City Councilman Bobby Henon, questions arose about whether the indictment truly describes criminal acts, or if Doc and Henon’s hardball tactics on behalf of their union was just a case study in realpolitik.
On Friday, seven defendants, including Dougherty, 58, business manager of the Philly electricians union, and several other union employees, all entered not guilty pleas to charges of corruption and fraud. Dougherty and his associates stand accused of stealing more than $600,000 from the union’s funds for personal purchases and home improvements between 2010 and 2016.
Picking over the indictment reveals Dougherty’s connections to countless other areas of Philadelphia politics and even corruption.
For example, Local 98 expenditures included a $6,400 donation that went toward paying for summer trips for the two daughters of jailed ex-Philadelphia DA Seth Williams to Japan and Spain through a popular youth travel program in 2015, the Inquirer reported. Incidentally, the donation was made months after a case involving Dougherty allegedly punching a non-union worker in the face over a dispute at a construction site was referred to the DA’s office – and which was resolved without any criminal charges.
The indictment also describes Dougherty giving full support to Mayor Kenney’s signature soda tax proposal in 2016, helping to push it through Council, in revenge against the Teamsters union for running a TV ad that criticized him.
Philadelphia city government officials wrote an op-ed in the Inquirer Friday denying that Dougherty had anything to do with the genesis of the soda tax proposal: “The tax was the result of creative thinking around improving education for our children and economic development in our neighborhoods,” wrote finance director Rob Dubow and Mayor Kenney’s chief of staff Jim Engler.
Meanwhile, plenty of heat has also been directed at Northeast Philly Councilman Henon, 50, who went to court a day earlier on Jan. 31 to enter a not guilty plea to charges of corruption for allegedly using his post to do the union’s bidding.
Henon has taken a straightforward stance: he does not plan to resign and denies all wrongdoing. Henon claims he never concealed his affiliation with Local 98 or the $72,000 salary he received from the local after being elected on top of his $140,000 city paycheck (City Councilmembers are allowed to have a separate source of income as long as they report it properly).
Henon claims the activities he is charged with in the indictment – including pressuring Comcast to hire a union-supported electrician to “advance” their cable franchise negotiations with the city – were congruent with his duties as an elected councilman and advocate for unions citywide.
But the indictment paints a slightly more troubling picture. In it, Dougherty is shown to be in regular phone and text message contact with Henon directing many of Henon’s “pro-union” activities. Henon at one point was recorded, federal prosecutors allege, when Dougherty questioned his loyalties, responding, “I don’t give a f— about anybody, all right, but f—ing you and us, and you know that.”
Furthermore, on May 4, 2015, the two men discussed an Inquirer editorial “critical of Doughery and his close relationship with Henon,” the indictment states.” According to the indictment, Dougherty literally dictated a response that was then submitted to the newspaper as if it came from Henon – and which falsely claimed the two of them only spoke once a year.