Longtime former Philadelphia labor leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty is on trial on embezzlement charges, accused of having stolen from the union he led for nearly three decades.
Dougherty and others are accused of having embezzled more than $650,000 from Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers between 2010 and 2016. Federal prosecutors allege that Dougherty spent the money on home renovations, meals, concerts and groceries for himself and his family and friends.
“Over and over, again and again, he stole, he lied, and no one stopped him,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Bea Witzleben told jurors in her opening statement Monday, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. “He stole money from that union any time he thought he could get away with it.”
She indicated that much of the government’s evidence will take the form of wiretap recordings, telling jurors they will hear Dougherty say he got away with the spending by trying to “keep it within reason so it don’t look too crazy.”
Dougherty, 63, has denied the allegations and expressed confidence of acquittal on the more than 90 counts that include conspiracy, embezzlement, wire and tax fraud, and falsification of union records. Defense attorneys portrayed him as a hardworking leader trying to account for his expenses while working around the clock for union members.
“This is a case of negligence, not fraud,” attorney Gregory Pagano told the panel. “Negligence is not a crime.”
Pagano said the union’s success stemmed from his philosophy that “you have to spend money to make money,” and the money spent to rub elbows with business and political leaders eventually led to increased wages and benefits. But, he said, Dougherty ran the operation like a “mom and pop business” that lacked some policies around spending and credit.
Dougherty, the business manager of the Philadelphia-area IBEW Local 98 and the business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, was indicted in 2019 after a lengthy FBI investigation.
In November 2021, he and a city council member were convicted of conspiracy in a corruption trial. Prosecutors said Dougherty kept Bobby Henon, a union electrician-turned-Philadelphia City Council member, on the payroll to help his union keep a tight grip on construction jobs.
Dougherty was convicted of eight counts, including conspiracy and honest services wire fraud, while Henon was convicted of 10 counts, including conspiracy, bribery and honest services wire fraud. The Inquirer reported that Dougherty was acquitted of three fraud counts and Henon of eight fraud and bribery counts.