The verdict is in. A federal jury has convicted labor leader John  “Johnny Doc” Dougherty and Philadelphia Councilman Bobby Henon on a spate of conspiracy and bribery charges. 

Philadelphia’s “Johnny Doc,” 61, was one of the most powerful union bosses in the United States. He led the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 and founded the Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council, which represents thirty unions across the Delaware Valley. Dougherty announced his resignation from its leadership on Tuesday afternoon.

As for Henon, 58, he’s a former Local 98 political director who has credited Dougherty for his success. The councilman openly referred to himself as “John’s Boy,” prompting allegations from federal prosecutors that he was serving dual roles: one to represent citizens of his Northeast Philadelphia district on city council, and one to represent the interests of IBEW, and Dougherty. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Philadelphia says prosecutors proved numerous schemes at trial. Among them, federal wiretaps revealed Dougherty compelled Henon to use the Department of Licenses & Inspections to pressure the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia into using union contractors.

Jurors agreed. After six weeks on the bench, they convicted Dougherty and Henon on one count each of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and several counts of honest services wire fraud. Additionally, Henon was convicted on a count of bribery. His resignation from city council is expected, opening up a potentially competitive special election for the seat.

Henon earned over $140,000 in taxpayer money from his position on city council. His position with IBEW 98, which he kept as councilman, added another $70,000 to his annual income. Prosecutors successfully convinced the jury this salary from IBEW amounted to a bribe. Plus, the jury found a $5,000 campaign contribution from the CWA served as a bribe as well.

As part of the investigation, the FBI wiretapped Dougherty and Henon for more than a year starting in April 2015. Later that year, federal agents raided Dougherty’s home, Local 98 headquarters, and Henon’s office.

Sentencing is set for late February 2022. Both Henon and Dougherty plan to appeal.

“Justice was not served today, and I can’t tell you how disappointed I am by the jury’s decision,” said Dougherty. “What Councilman Henon and I were found guilty of is how business and politics are typically and properly conducted. I will immediately appeal and have every confidence that I will prevail in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.”

“John Dougherty is not above the law”

Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Williams called the verdict a “strong message.”

“John Dougherty is not above the law,” said Williams in a written statement

“He is not entitled, had no right, to pull the strings of official City business as if he were elected to office. And Bobby Henon was not elected to represent Local 98 or John Dougherty’s interests on City Council, or any union for that matter, but to represent all the people of [Philadelphia’s] 6th Councilmanic District — a fact which he failed to remember in doing the bidding of his political godfather.”

Bobby Henon was not elected to represent Local 98 or John Dougherty’s interests on City Council… but to represent all the people of [Philadelphia’s] 6th Councilmanic District.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Jennifer Williams

The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania first brought charges against the men nearly three years ago with a 159-page indictment under the leadership of former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain. McSwain, a Republican, is now vying for the open Pennsylvania governor’s office in 2022.

“Nobody should have to pay a corruption tax to do business in Philadelphia, and I am glad to see that the jury delivered that powerful message,” McSwain told Broad + Liberty. “I was proud to focus on anti-corruption efforts as US Attorney, and as Governor I will have zero tolerance for public corruption of any kind.”

However, McSwain recused himself from the investigation to prevent a conflict, according to Williams. At the time, Williams was First Assistant Attorney.

An attack on organized labor?

A message on social media from Henon’s staff cast the trial and prosecution as an attack on labor unions.

“We are heartbroken for the Councilman, the Councilman’s family, the 6th district, the labor community and the City of Philadelphia,” wrote Henon’s staff on Facebook. “We are so proud of Councilman Bobby Henon and of the work we’ve done together!”

Jacqueline Maguire, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division, dismissed this. “From the start, John Dougherty and Bobby Henon sought to tag this as an anti-union case,” said Maguire. “Let’s be clear. The FBI has no problem with labor unions. It’s criminals we’re after, like a local power broker who gives an elected official a handsome salary and benefits he didn’t earn, in exchange for doing that benefactor’s business at City Hall.”

Henon’s term is set to expire at the end of 2023, but he will be forced to resign come sentencing in February. The Pennsylvania Constitution makes no exceptions to this rule: “No person hereafter convicted of embezzlement of public moneys, bribery, perjury or other infamous crime, shall be eligible to the General Assembly, or capable of holding any office of trust or profit in this Commonwealth.”

If Henon resigns as expected, it falls to city council to fill his spot. Council President Darrell Clarke can call a special election. Clarke released a statement on the trial’s results.

“While it is always difficult to learn of a guilty verdict on conspiracy charges of a member of this legislative body, the jury has spoken, and we respect its verdict.”

Along with Clarke, another city official who offered limited comment was Mayor Jim Kenney. Local 98 donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kenney’s mayoral campaign in 2016, according to Billy Penn.

Kenney’s office released a brief statement, but did not call on Henon to resign.

“The Mayor expects Councilman Henon will do what he feels is right for the city and his constituents.”

Later, Kenney told reporters he sympathized with Dougherty and Henon.

“I feel bad for them,” said Kenney “I feel bad for the fact that they work really hard, in bringing a lot of good things to the city. They got caught up in something they probably shouldn’t have.”

I feel bad for them. I feel bad for the fact that they work really hard, in bringing a lot of good things to the city. They got caught up in something they probably shouldn’t have.

– Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney

In the meantime, Dougherty’s future and legacy are uncertain. Frank Keel, a spokesperson for the union, initially told reporters, “justice was not served.” 

It had seemed the Doc had no intention to resign until the appeals process was complete. But after nearly 30 years, Dougherty tendered his resignation from IBEW leadership Monday evening and releasing a statement the next day.

“I made this difficult but necessary decision to resign as Business Manager to protect the integrity of this union that has been my life’s work and passion,” said Dougherty. “Although I am stepping down, Local 98 is in an incredibly strong position, financially and otherwise.”

The Local 98 Executive Board voted to appoint Mark Lynch as interim business manager. Lynch, 35, has been with IBEW for 15 years.

Dougherty and Henon’s time in the public spotlight is not done yet. They still face federal embezzlement and tax fraud charges which will be part of a separate trial.

Federal prosecutors allege they, along with six others, skimmed $600,000 from Local 98 for personal use. These allegations were originally part of the same case as the conspiracy and bribery charges, but a judge separated them last year.

Additionally, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Dougherty and his nephew Gregory Fiocca with extortion earlier this year. There are no trial dates yet set for either of these cases.

Rick Rickman is a reporter for Broad + Liberty. @RRickman20

One thought on “Union boss John Dougherty, Philadelphia political kingmaker, convicted on conspiracy, bribery charges along with Councilman Bobby Henon”

  1. This is supposed to be a free country. Unions should not have the right to picket worksites that do not hire union members. I am also tired of Phila. being ruled by unelected power brokers. I’m tired of Phila. corruption in all areas. I’m also tired of Pa. corruption in all areas. Politicians & back benchers are getting away with murder in this state & nothing is being done about it.

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