Influential Philadelphia labor leader John Dougherty was arrested by federal authorities Wednesday and charged with extorting a contractor to help his nephew.
Dougherty, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, is due to stand trial alongside City Councilman Bobby Henon in May for a separate bribery case. He is also charged with embezzling more than $600,000 in union funds.
Frank Keel, his spokesperson, said investigators have targeted Dougherty almost since the time he took control of the union in 1993. Dougherty recently returned home after spending nearly two weeks by the side of his wife, who was seriously ill at Jefferson University Hospital, he added.
“This isn’t a prosecution, it’s a persecution,” Keel said in a statement.
“Nobody’s picking on John Dougherty,” said FBI Special Agent Michael Driscoll, who heads the agency’s Philadelphia office. “These are the results of his actions. Quite frankly, if he continues to violate the law, the FBI will continue to arrest him.”
Dougherty, 60, reportedly pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday. He was released pending future court proceedings, with prosecutors unsuccessfully attempting to have him placed on house arrest.
His nephew, Gregory Fiocca, 28, is also named in the indictment, unsealed Wednesday, and both are charged with 18 counts of extortion and one count of conspiracy to commit extortion.
Fiocca, an electrician and Local 98 member, was assigned in October 2019 to a project overseen by an unnamed contractor and often did not show up for work, prosecutors alleged.
Still, when the contractor didn’t pay him for a full week, Fiocca was angered and demanded compensation for 40 hours of work, according to the indictment.
On Aug. 19, 2019, Fiocca allegedly grabbed the project manager by the throat, threw him onto a desk and threatened to break his jaw if he didn’t get more money.
In a conversation recounted in the charging documents, Fiocca is accused of telling the project manager during the assault, “There’s nothing you can do to me. I’m getting my money.”
“You think this is f–king, how this works? You think you’re like, you think yous are untouchable?” he continued. “We’re pulling the whole job, you know that, right now. I’m calling my uncle already. We’re pulling everyone off the job.”
He also vowed to attack the owner of the contracting company in a parking garage, prosecutors said.
Later that day, three Local 98 representatives went to talk with the project manager, and, according to the indictment, one left the meeting to speak to Dougherty on the phone.
There were no repercussions for Fiocca, who remained on the project through January 2021, and Dougherty allegedly told the contractor that he would eliminate overtime for Local 98 members and force the company to operate three shifts for electricians.
Authorities said the threats escalated, with Dougherty suggesting he would pull the union electricians off the job and prevent the contractor from securing a deal on a large job in the city.
“These charges, as alleged, represent an abuse of power and a sense of entitlement which crossed the line,” Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said. “More importantly, no one should fear economic reprisal or physical violence simply for attempting to do honest business in Philadelphia. Union business is no exception.”
Dougherty’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
If convicted on all 19 counts, Dougherty and Fiocca could be sentenced to a maximum of 380 years in prison and be forced to pay $4.75 million, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Dougherty could also face significant time behind bars if he is found guilty in his other federal case.
He was charged with more than 90 counts of embezzlement, fraud, bribery and other crimes in January 2019.
Prosecutors have argued that Henon did Dougherty’s bidding in Council, waging personal feuds against his enemies, and that Dougherty, with the help of other Local 98 officials, stole hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal use and to help family and friends.