Philly union leader pleads not guilty in embezzlement case

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A powerful Philadelphia union leader pleaded not guilty on Friday in an embezzlement and influence-peddling case that reached City Hall.

Johnny “Doc” Dougherty, 58, has been a major political player in Pennsylvania, steering $30 million raised by the local electricians union to mostly Democratic candidates in the last decade alone.

An indictment this week suggested the breadth of his influence . The FBI said that Dougherty pushed the passage of the city’s soda tax solely to exact revenge on the rival Teamsters union, which feared the loss of bottling and delivery jobs; had city inspectors hold up the non-union installation of an MRI machine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and had his ally on city council investigate a towing company that seized his car.

“Let me tell you what (Councilman) Bobby Henon’s going to do,” Dougherty told a union official in May 2015, according to the indictment. “They’re going to start to put a tax on soda again, and that will cost the Teamsters 100 jobs in Philly.”

Dougherty has led the 5,000-member International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 since 1993 and more recently took the helm of the city’s Building Trades Council, with 70,000 members. Henon, who came up in the union, stayed on the payroll in a $70,000-a-year executive post even after winning a full-time seat on Philadelphia City Council in 2015.

The indictment said that Dougherty and his inner circle also misspent $600,000 in union funds on home repairs, sports tickets, trips and luxuries, like two $88 cakes for Dougherty’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Dougherty has denied wrongdoing throughout the public two-year probe. Children’s Hospital officials also declined to comment.

Henon, 50, pleaded not guilty to bribery and fraud charges Thursday. In a statement, he said he ran on a pro-union platform and considers union workers across the city his constituency.

A judge released him Friday on a $50,000 personal recognizance bond and ordered him to surrender his passport and have only work-related contact with witnesses.

Dougherty told reporters he wouldn’t discuss the case as he left the courthouse flanked by lawyers.

In arraignments Friday, three others also pleaded not guilty, including an electrical contractor who is accused of getting $2 million in work for Comcast Corp. after Dougherty and Henon allegedly pressured the media giant. Comcast officials said this week they are cooperating with authorities but can’t otherwise comment.

Dougherty helped Mayor Jim Kenney, a childhood friend, win office in 2015, the same year his brother, Kevin Dougherty, won a seat on the state Supreme Court. His union also raised $650,000 for Gov. Tom Wolf’s re-election campaign last year.

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