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November 15, 2021

Union leader John Dougherty, Councilmember Bobby Henon found guilty in federal corruption trial

Courts Corruption
John Dougherty Verdict Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

I.B.E.W. Local leader John Dougherty, above in 2016, was found guilty Monday on eight charges in a federal corruption trial, including conspiracy and honest services fraud. He was acquitted of three other honest services fraud counts. Councilmember Bobby Henon was found guilty on 10 of 18 counts against him.

Powerful labor union leader John Dougherty and Philadelphia City Councilmember Bobby Henon were convicted Monday in a large federal corruption trial that put a history of backroom, strong-armed local politics in the public spotlight.

A jury delivered the verdict after a monthlong trial that examined the way the two men worked in tandem to influence policy at City Hall. Federal prosecutors first detailed the allegations of wrongdoing two years ago in a 116-count indictment that included six other defendants. 

Dougherty is the longtime business manager for Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, where he's been a power broker in Philadelphia politics for years.

Henon, a Democrat who has represented parts of Northeast Philadelphia since 2009, was accused of doing Dougherty's bidding in City Council while continuing to earn a $70,000 salary from the union. Henon was formerly a union electrician before entering politics. 

Dougherty was found guilty on 8 of 11 charges, including conspiracy and honest services fraud. Henon was found guilty on 10 of 18 charges.

“Justice was not served today, and I can’t tell you how disappointed I am by the jury’s decision," Dougherty said Monday afternoon. "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.”

Monday's verdict comes after a lengthy saga that began with a series of federal raids on offices and properties connected to Dougherty and Henon in 2016. 

Prosecutors alleged that Dougherty, a South Philadelphia resident, had effectively bought Henon's vote by supplying him with a salary, benefits, tickets to Eagles games and other perks. Henon was accused of carrying out Dougherty's personal, professional and financial agendas in the public sphere, especially to help steer construction contracts to allies and friends. 

Among the allegations in the case, prosecutors said Henon opposed an audit of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, delayed plumbing code legislation and influenced Comcast's cable franchise agreement all under Dougherty's direction. Henon also threatened other union leaders at Dougherty's behest and tried to halt the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia from using nonunion labor to install MRI machines, prosecutors said. 

Some of the accusations in the case pointed to evidence that Henon would work for Dougherty even to satisfy personal vendettas. 

During the period leading up to the passage of Philadelphia's soda tax, Henon was accused of throwing his weight behind the effort in order to help Dougherty retaliate against the rival Teamsters union. The legislation was going to result in the loss of jobs for those transporting beverages, and the unions opposed to it had singled out Dougherty in negative advertisements. 

In another instance, evidence surfaced showing that Dougherty tried to get Henon to initiate City Council hearings against local towing companies after his car was towed in Pennsport for being double parked. 

Prosecutors also claimed that Henon never disclosed as gifts the thousands of dollars in tickets to sporting events that he received from Dougherty, as required by law. 

Legal representatives for Dougherty and Henon both pushed back against the charges throughout the case, arguing that their relationship and actions had not broken the law. City council members are not barred from holding outside jobs. 

During the course of the trial, jurors listened to wiretapped phone calls between Dougherty and Henon, as well as other local leaders including Mayor Jim Kenney, whose political rise Dougherty had supported. Kenney was not implicated in any wrongdoing in the federal case, but members of his administration testified during the trial. 

City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez responded to Monday's verdict by calling for a ban on council members holding outside employment. 

"Philadelphia City Council must put in place rules to ban outside employment for members," Quiñones-Sánchez said. "The potential for the appearance of conflict of interest is simply too strong and erodes the public trust. There can be no disputing that outside employment has the potential to compromise the integrity of our members."

Dougherty and Henon each will be sentenced in late February. Dougherty has at least one additional federal trial ahead of him stemming from the same investigation, which found that he and others allegedly embezzled from the electrical workers union. 

Both Dougherty and Henon plan to file appeals. 

"We're going to go back and regroup," Dougherty told a group of reporters outside the federal courthouse on Monday. "I'm going to take my time. I'm going to meet with my lawyers, meet with the heads of the unions, you know, and then we'll regroup."

Check back for updates on this developing story.