Local 98 leader 'Johnny Doc' pleads not guilty to corruption indictment

Steve Tawa
February 01, 2019 - 1:56 pm
John Dougherty (center) leaves his first court appearance.

Steve Tawa/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Two days after the sweeping 116-count public corruption indictment was unsealed against Local 98 union leader John Dougherty and seven others, he made his first court appearance.

As participants settled in the courtroom, with the prosecution team on one side and defense on the other, there was a brief, but very professional mingle. Veteran Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Gray and Dougherty locked eyes, then exchanged a firm handshake. Gray whispered to Dougherty in an even tone, "It's all business."

Inside the courtroom, all eyes were on Dougherty, the union boss who has had an iron grip on construction jobs in the Philadelphia region, as well as local and state politics since the early 1990s. 

But in these proceedings, there is a minimum of dialogue in open court. He answered to charges that included conspiracy, bribery and fraud. After the 91 counts against him were read out loud, he replied with two words: "not guilty." 

Then, the magistrate set bail, and in just minutes, he was free to go.

Outside the courthouse, surrounded by reporters and photographers, Dougherty said, "The indictment is just a charge," and he was "comfortable with the team" of lawyers. He said he would continue doing his job, and he will continue to share his personal thoughts.

"As we proceed and I start to get information, you'll start to get all my personal feelings as all the facts come out to us," he added.

Dougherty's longtime spokesman Frank Keel repeated the words of defense lawyer Henry Hockeimer, who has scoffed at the accusations that his client stole from the union he cares so deeply about.

"It's preposterous to presume that this guy, John Dougherty, would in any way betray his own union, his membership," said Keel.

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The 58-year-old electricians union leader has been charged with running a six-year-long scheme to allegedly steal more than $600,000 from the IBEW union, and covering up mis-spent funds by falsifying documents. The charges include conspiracy, bribery and fraud, and prosecutors say if convicted, the defendants could face decades in prison.

City Councilman Bobby Henon, who was arraigned Thursday on bribery, conspiracy and fraud charges, also pleaded not guilty. He was released on his own recognizance of $50,000. His lawyer described the indictment as a "travesty of justice."

The six others named in the indictment — union President Brian Burrows; union Political Director Marita Crawford; union employees Michael Neill, Niko Rodriguez and Brian Fiocca; and local business owner Anthony Massa — were also charged with embezzlement, theft, wire fraud and other public corruption offenses. 

In all, the eight defendants are accused of embezzling $600,481 from Local 98, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. 

Defense lawyer Henry Hockeimer (front) and John Dougherty (back) leave Dougherty's first court appearance following the public corruption indictment, Feb. 1, 2019.
Steve Tawa/KYW Newsradio

Federal prosecutors say Henon was a pawn for Dougherty, handling City Council matters as Dougherty wanted, in exchange for a union salary, tickets to Eagles games and the like. They also claim Dougherty used Local 98 as his personal bank account, utilizing three credit cards to purchase groceries, household goods, and meals, as well as a way to pay contractors who worked on his personal properties.

Local 98 defended Dougherty in a statement released Wednesday: "To allege that John in any way attempted to defraud the Union he cares about so deeply is preposterous. He looks forward to his day in court and the opportunity to clear his name."