Philadelphia labor union powerbroker gets 6 years for bribery and theft

READING, Pa. (AP) — A former Philadelphia labor leader who wielded significant clout in Pennsylvania politics was sentenced on Thursday to six years in prison for bribing a City Council member and stealing nearly $600,000 from the union he ran for nearly three decades.

John Dougherty, 64, was convicted in December of embezzlement, conspiracy and dozens of other counts in a 2019 indictment, which accused him of using the politically powerful electricians’ union as his “personal bank account” and a source of jobs for family and friends. In 2021, a separate jury convicted Dougherty of bribing a City Council member to do the union’s bidding.

Dougherty apologized before the judge for his conduct, saying he “got out of control.”

“I’m here to take full responsibility. It’s embarrassing. I’m sick,” Dougherty said. Noting that he’d been under federal investigation for years, he said: “I knew better, I let the lines get blurred, I got over my head.”

Dougherty still has influential backers. His brother — Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty — was in the packed courtroom gallery Thursday as supporters took the stand and testified about the defendant’s charitable works, his staunch union advocacy and his devotion to family.

Dougherty received nearly 250 letters of support from political and civic figures, including one from former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell — who served two terms as Philadelphia’s mayor — and another from Sister Mary Scullion, a much-admired homeless advocate in the city.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl, who handed down the sentence in federal court in Reading, said it was clear that Dougherty had done many good things for the community and the union rank-and-file as he built Local 98 into a powerhouse.

“But somewhere along that trip you lost your way,” the judge said. “You really did lose your way. You lost your integrity and you lost your responsibility.”

Dougherty must report to prison by Sept. 4. Schmehl has not yet determined how much restitution he owes. Prosecutors asked that he repay $2.1 million to Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, where Dougherty served as business manager from 1993 until his 2021 resignation.

They had pushed for a 14-year prison term, saying Dougherty systematically ripped off the electricians’ union and deprived the citizens of Philadelphia of the right to honest service from the elected official he bribed. Dougherty was so powerful that no one in his orbit questioned his conduct, and he threatened retaliation against anyone perceived as disloyal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Costello said in court Thursday.

“The defendant has shown little if any remorse or responsibility,” Costello said.

Known as “Johnny Doc,” Dougherty was a longtime power broker in Democratic politics, steering tens of millions in union campaign contributions to candidates for office, including his brother, who was elected to the state’s high court in 2015.

Federal prosecutors said Dougherty also used the union’s money to buy groceries, restaurant meals, tickets to concerts and sporting events, and other personal items. He paid contractors with union funds for work on his house, his relatives’ houses and a neighborhood bar he owned, and arranged for friends and family members to be on the union payroll, according to the indictment.

A co-defendant in last year’s trial, former union president Brian Burrows, was sentenced last month to four years in prison.

Dougherty also was convicted of bribing Philadelphia council member Bobby Henon. Prosecutors said Dougherty gave Henon a no-show union job. Henon subsequently held up a lucrative cable contract for Comcast Corp. — forcing Comcast to steer electrical work to Dougherty’s friend — and took other official actions under Dougherty’s sway. Henon was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.

“Henon did whatever Dougherty wanted. He got what he paid for,” said Costello, the prosecutor.

A third criminal case against Dougherty, involving extortion charges, ended in a hung jury in April.

Dougherty’s lawyers acknowledged the labor boss had abused his position of trust in the 5,000-member local, but said he performed “tremendous and tireless work” on its behalf. The defense also said Dougherty provides daily care for his gravely ill wife.

“I know my dad is far from perfect. I understand and believe in the idea of accountability,” his daughter, Erin Dougherty, said on the witness stand. But she begged the judge to sentence her father to home confinement so he could continue to tend to her mother.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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