Back in 2019, we took note of a federal indictment against Philadelphia union boss John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, several other union officials, and a Philadelphia city councilman who was literally simultaneously on the union payroll. Earlier this week, justice was done on some of the 116 counts, as a federal jury convicted Dougherty and Councilman Bobby Henon (D-6th District) of conspiracy and fraud-related charges.
They will face other charges later, including charges of tax fraud and embezzlement, pursuant to a judicial ruling dividing the case.
Bribery and Corruption
While the most notable charge, an allegation that Dougherty and his accomplices embezzled $600,000, will be among the charges tried later, the jury convicted Dougherty and Henon of serious crimes. IBEW Local 98, Johnny Doc’s union, paid Councilman Henon $70,000 in salary for a de facto no-show job that prosecutors alleged, and the jury concluded, served as a bribe to allow Dougherty to control Henon’s official acts. The Wall Street Journal outlined two other counts, each a classic case of institutional organized labor and machine-political corruption:
One count involves franchise contract negotiations between Comcast and the City of Philadelphia. To move forward with the agreement, the cable giant needed the approval of the City Council’s Committee on Public Property and Public Works, which Mr. Henon chaired. The councilman let Mr. Dougherty issue labor demands to Comcast from his office.
Another involves what happened after a towing company hauled away Mr. Dougherty’s car. The union boss raged about the incident to Mr. Henon, and the city councilman had his staff draft a resolution to hold hearings to investigate the towing company.
The Very Model of a Modern Major Union Boss
Dougherty gave a statement after the verdict was read, and it is frankly breathtaking (emphasis added):
Justice was not served today, and I can’t tell you how disappointed I am by the jury’s decision. . . . 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.
In Dougherty’s eyes, he is simply the very model of a modern major union boss. Corruptly impeding the conduct of business—imposing what former Trump administration U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain called “a corruption tax to do business in Philadelphia”—is just business as usual. Fortunately for Philadelphia’s taxpayers, the jury disagreed—or at least held that it ought not be business as usual, even if it presently is.
Those outside Pennsylvania may think that Dougherty is just another of the litany of petty and not-so-petty criminals who are periodically discovered to run America’s labor unions. But until his conviction (which he is naturally appealing), Johnny Doc was one of the most powerful men in politics in one of the country’s quintessential swing states. His brother Kevin sits on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, thanks in large part to Johnny Doc’s union’s campaign contributions. That same court aggressively redrew Pennsylvania’s congressional districts to benefit federal Democrats before the 2018 elections.
But Justice Dougherty was far from brother Johnny’s only beneficiary. Matthew Brouillette explains just how wide his political machine stretched its arms:
All told, Local 98, under Johnny Doc’s direction, has doled out more than $41 million in political spending since 2010, spanning all branches of government, according to campaign finance reports. As of the end of 2020, 47 sitting judges, 62 state lawmakers, 4 district attorneys, and 45 county and local officials owed their elections at least in part to Johnny Doc’s patronage.
The question for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the nation is what will happen to Johnny Doc’s political machine now that he has stepped down from IBEW Local 98 to await sentencing. Only time will tell.