Local 98’s Johnny Doc treated union as piggybank while peddling influence, feds say

A long-rumored federal indictment unsealed Wednesday is filled with damning allegations leveled against the leadership of Philadelphia’s most influential workers’ union and its ties with city government.

The 116-count indictment filed by the Philly U.S. Attorney’s office charges nine people – including legendary International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 98 business manager John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, and sitting City Councilman Bobby Henon, a former Local 98 member who has reportedly continued collecting a $70,000-a-year salary from the union while representing the city’s Sixth District.

Federal prosecutors and FBI agents allege that through Henon, Dougherty’s influence touched several recent governmental efforts – the soda tax, negotiations with Comcast, the Philadelphia Parking Authority and even investigations of private towing companies.

The defendants are also accused of taking $600,000 from the union’s accounts and charitable funds for personal construction work, travel, expensive family meals, and personal purchases, prosecutors said.

“If convicted of all charges, these defendants face decades in prison,” said first Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams, who is handling the investigation, as U.S Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William McSwain recused himself due to a conflict involving his prior work at a private firm. “Corruption is a cancer on the public good, and when the citizens of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania lose faith that their elected officials are held to the same rule of law as everyone else, then they lose faith in our democracy.”

All nine defendants are due for their first court appearances on Friday.

“This is not a case against Local 98. … The people most directly victimized by the alleged actions of those charged in this investigation are the honest and hardworking members of the IBEW Local 98 and the citizens of Philadelphia,” said Michael Harpster, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Philadelphia division. “Sadly, we are here again to announce yet another indictment against public officials or those who were chosen to represents the interest of others. It is yet another crack on that Liberty Bell of democracy.”

A spokesman for IBEW Local 98 declined to comment immediately on the indictment and said they would be issuing a response to the indictment later. Henon released a statement denying any wrongdoing.

“I have done nothing wrong,” Henon said. “Every action I have taken as City Councilmember has been with the goal of serving working people. I have worked tirelessly to protect and serve my constituents from being victimized by powerful companies whose thirst for profit is unquenchable. I have always reported every penny of my union income to the City, and the State. I have never committed fraud in my life. … I look forward to clearing my name.” 

Bobby Henon

City Councilman Bobby Henon visits a constituent’s backyard chicken farm, which is technically illegal in Philadelphia, after she beat city-imposed fines in court. (Hayden Mitman)

Long time coming

The federal indictment into Local 98 has been expected ever since the FBI raided Dougherty’s home in July 2016, also raiding Local 98’s headquarters, Councilman Henon’s offices in City Hall, some Local 98-linked offices in South Jersey, and “Doc’s Union Bar,” a South Philly restaurant owned by Local 98 that was used to host political campaign fundraisers for more than a dozen candidates. That bar has since been sold and converted into Mifflin Tavern.

Among other candidates, Local 98 donated significantly in 2015 to the campaigns of Mayor Kenney and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty. After being elected, Kenney passed his signature achievement, the soda tax, the majority of the funding from which would go toward Philly trade-unions in the form of Philly Rebuild, along with funding for community schools and universal preK. Justice Dougherty and the other newly elected Democrat justices who won a new majority on the state Supreme Court controversially ruled that the state’s Congressional districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered and created a new map, which was followed by significant gains for Democrats statewide. (John Dougherty is reported to have helped fundraise a total of $3.5 million for the Democratic justices).  

Kenney said he was “deeply disappointed” to learn of the charges.

“I have known these individuals to be passionate and hardworking people, which is why I find these allegations so disturbing,” Kenney said in a statement. “With regards to Councilman Henon, it’s extremely important that elected officials diligently guard the public’s trust. Whatever the Councilman decides to do next regarding his Council position, I hope he considers the impact these proceedings have on his ability to serve the residents of the Sixth Councilmanic District who elected him to office.”

But Kenney, as well as City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, refrained from calling on Henon to resign.

“The charges filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office against Majority Leader Henon are grave and must be taken seriously,” Clarke said in his statement. “As president of City Council and a fellow lawmaker, I sincerely hope the allegations of public corruption are not true.”

Court officials did not respond to requests for comment from Justice Dougherty.

Inside the indictment

Assistant U.S. attorney Williams claimed that Dougherty paid Henon to “do his bidding from his seat on City Council.” While Henon claimed he “always put my constituents and the people of Philadelphia first,” the indictment details several “overt acts” Henon undertook that Dougherty urged him to do.

In July 2015, Dougherty directed Henon to report Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to the Department of Licenses & Inspections (L&I) for using non-union technicians to install new MRI machines, eventually resulting in the hospital being denied a “Certificate of Occupancy” for the MRI room, the feds allege. 

“They shut down that GE room up at Children’s Hospital; they red-striped it,” Dougherty later allegedly told a Local 98 associate, according to the indictment. “But we got to be smart, we don’t want them to f— us. We got to capitalize off that. I got to get a meeting with Children’s Hospital again, things like that, you know.”

Also at Dougherty’s direction, in mid-2015, as chair of City Council’s Committee for Public Property and Public Works, Henon pressured Comcast into hiring Local 98-aligned contractor George Peltz’ company MJK Electric to “advance” the city of Philadelphia’s negotiations regarding the renewal of Comcast’s cable franchise agreement, the feds allege. The union workers got the job despite charging a “significantly higher rate” than agreed upon, and ended up making $1 million.

Henon furthermore opened a City Council investigation into a towing company, as directed by Dougherty who wanted revenge after one of the company’s drivers towed his car, forced him to pay a $200 fine, and didn’t have $10 in change. (“That $10 is going to cost their f—ing industry a bundle,” Dougherty allegedly told Henon). And Henon allegedly opposed an audit of the Philadelphia Parking Audit per Dougherty’s orders.

Even Councilman Henon’s support for Mayor Kenney’s signature soda tax was was directed by Dougherty – as a means of revenge against the Teamsters Union for running a political commercial negatively depicting Dougherty, the feds allege.

“I just saw the Carpenters and Teamsters commercial with you in it. I’m going to f— them big time, just so you know,” Henon allegedly texted Dougherty. Dougherty later bragged to another associate, “Let me tell you what Bobby Henon’s going to do…They’re going to start to put a tax on soda again and that will cost the Teamsters 100 jobs in Philly.”

Henon at one point allegedly told Dougherty an unidentified City Council member would vote the soda tax “if the member got a ‘little, like, hug.'” Dougherty allegedly replied, “Let him know that once you get this stuff, there’s gonna be a ton of major league jobs, that his wife [is] more than qualified for,” according to the indictment.

Interestingly, the indictment states that Dougherty served as a go-between the Mayor’s Office and Henon with questions about whether Henon would introduce a soda tax bill at Council. Later, the indictment states, “after a member of the Mayor’s administration explained to defendant John Dougherty the benefits that the soda tax would provide to the city of Philadelphia, Dougherty replied, “You don’t have to explain to me. I don’t give a f—. Listen, my goal is to make sure you are alright, that’s all.”

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