Philly union boss and councilman indicted in corruption probe

A sweeping federal corruption investigation in Philadelphia ensnared top city officials and one of its most powerful union bosses
Johnny "Doc" Dougherty, a Philadelphia union official who runs the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, walks outside his home on Aug. 5, 2016, in the South Philadelphia neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Johnny "Doc" Dougherty, a Philadelphia union official who runs the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, walks outside his home on Aug. 5, 2016, in the South Philadelphia neighborhood of Philadelphia.Kristen De Groot / AP file

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By Tom Winter and Adiel Kaplan

A sweeping federal corruption investigation in Philadelphia ensnared top city officials and one of its most powerful union bosses, accusing them of carrying out a boatload of schemes that included blocking the city's renowned children's hospital from installing new MRI machines.

The indictment charged union boss John "Doc" Dougherty with more than 100 counts, and implicated city councilman Robert "Bobby" Henon, several other officials from Dougherty's union and the owner of a local construction company.

Over 160 pages long, the indictment features a five-page table of contents laying out schemes that include bribery, embezzlement and wire fraud.

Dougherty and his seven cronies are accused of embezzling more than $600,000 dollars in union funds to sponsor family members' trips, to further his personal and political interests and maintain his bar. They allegedly spent thousands of dollars at the nicest steakhouse at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J., according to the indictment.

The alleged schemes included coercing and threatening Philadelphia's children's hospital and NBCUniversal's parent company Comcast, in an effort to obtain contracts for Dougherty's union.

Dougherty oversaw Philadelphia's IBEW Local 98 and allegedly "used Local 98 as his personal bank account and as a means to obtain employment for himself, his family, and his friends," the indictment says.

Jennifer Arbittier Williams, center, assistant United States Attorney with the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia, speaks next to Michael Harpster, right, FBI special agent of the Philadelphia Division, and Guy Ficco, left, of the IRS, regarding the indictment of Local 98 leader John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty at the U.S. Attorney's office in Center City Philadelphia on Jan. 30, 2019.Heather Khalifa / The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

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Henon, the city councilman, also held a paid position with the union, the indictment says. The indictment alleges that in exchange for a salary and items of value from Dougherty, Henon used his political position to serve Dougherty's interests. In one notable case, the two men allegedly conspired to shut down the installation of an MRI machine at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to pressure it into using union labor, according to the indictment.

When Dougherty found out about the use of non-union labor to install the new machines, he threatened to orchestrate a city inspection violation and possible project shutdown if his union wasn't given the opportunity to bid on it, the indictment says. The hospital had to use the MRI manufacturer's electricians or the warranty would be void, according to the indictment.

Hendon, in his role as a councilman, had authority over the city's License and Inspection department, the indictment says.

Sure enough, the government says, Henon complained to the L&I department, at Dougherty's suggestion. A stop work order was placed on the installation of the MRI machine. Henon made a second complaint to L&I about a different MRI machine, and the department then refused to issue a certificate of occupancy for it.

The indictment alleges a separate scheme over the renewal of Comcast's franchise license to be a cable provider in Philadelphia.

Johnny "Doc" Dougherty, a Philadelphia union official who runs the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, walks outside his home on Aug. 5, 2016, in the South Philadelphia neighborhood of Philadelphia.Kristen De Groot / AP file

Dougherty and Henon allegedly teamed up to warn Comcast that if the company didn't give certain fiber optic work to union contractors the franchise agreement wouldn't be approved by the city council.

"That if the final franchise agreement with Comcast 'was not good for me, then we have some f---ing issues'," Dougherty said, according to the indictment.

In a statement released on Twitter following the indictment, Henon declared his innocence and refused to step down, saying "I have never committed fraud in my life. "I look forward to clearing my name and I will never waiver in my pursuit to protect and serve the working people who live in and built this city," he added.

Dougherty's lawyer, Henry E. Hockeimer, said Doughtery has devoted "all his energies" to the union for a quarter century, leading to dramatic increases in wages and benefits. "To allege that John in any way attempted to defraud the union he cares about so deeply is preposterous," Hockeimer said in a statement to the Associated Press.

Other schemes detailed in the indictment include threatening the Teamsters union over its opposition of Philadelphia's soda tax, delaying legislation to upset the Plumbers Union and submitting false statements to the Philadelphia Inquirer to conceal Henon and Dougherty's relationship.

The indictment did not suggest any wrongdoing by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia or Comcast.

Comcast, NBCUniversal's parent company, said in a statement, "We have cooperated fully in the government's investigation and will continue to cooperate as needed. The U.S. Attorney's Office has informed us that our only involvement in the case is as a fact witness."