City Councilman Bobby Henon was charged Wednesday in a bombshell indictment that also ensnared Local 98 boss John Dougherty.
By Jack Tomczuk
Federal authorities last Wednesday announced criminal charges against Sixth District City Councilman Bobby Henon, union boss John Dougherty and six other people connected to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98.
Prosecutors said Henon did Dougherty’s bidding, in one case even stepping in to try to halt the installation of MRI machines at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia because the work was being done by the manufacturer, and not union electricians.
Henon, 50, who lives in East Torresdale, is facing 20 counts of bribery and fraud, while Dougherty, Local 98’s business manager, was charged with more than 90 counts of embezzlement, fraud, bribery and other crimes.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said the pair could each spend decades behind bars if convicted of all charges. Both men have denied the allegations.
Henon pleaded not guilty Thursday afternoon in a small federal courtroom packed with reporters. He was released on a $50,000 recognizance bond.
Dougherty pleaded not guilty to the charges during his arraignment on Friday.
“I want to make clear: I have done nothing wrong,” Henon said in a statement. “I have always reported every penny of my union income to the city, and the state. I have never committed fraud in my life.”
“I will continue to serve, I look forward to clearing my name and I will never waiver in my pursuit to protect and serve the working people who live in and built this city,” he added.
A key part of the case against Henon is his role as a paid employee of Local 98. Henon received an annual salary of more than $70,000 from the union in 2015 and 2016 while he was serving as a councilman, according to the 165-page indictment.
Council members are allowed to hold multiple jobs, but the indictment alleges that Henon was on Local 98’s payroll only to advocate for the union and Dougherty, known as “Johnny Doc.”
Local 98 lists Henon’s position as “office staff” and Henon described his role as an “electrician,” but the councilman did not serve either function, according to the indictment.
Henon previously served as the union’s political director before taking office in 2012.
Prosecutors allege Dougherty asked Henon in July 2015 to complain to the city Department of Licenses & Inspections about MRI machines being installed at CHOP. The indictment states the hospital was having the manufacturer install the equipment in order to receive a warranty.
L&I employees inspected the job and issued a preliminary stop work order, according to the indictment. Later, the department denied to issue a certificate of occupancy to CHOP for the room that was under construction.
In another instance in the indictment, prosecutors said Dougherty warned Henon not to finalize a city agreement with Comcast unless the cable company hired MJK Electric, Dougherty’s favorite contractor.
Dougherty reportedly told Henon in November 2015: “That is why you are over there, that is why we raised 600 grand, that is why we did the deal… for one reason — to put you on public property to fight like a giant,” referencing City Council’s Committee for Public Property and Public Works.
Henon, according to the indictment, responded to Dougherty’s concern by saying: “I don’t give a (expletive) about anybody, all right, but (expletive) you and us, and you know that.”
Ultimately, Henon and Dougherty shook down Comcast to steer more than $1 million in work to MJK Electric, the indictment says. MJK is owned by George Peltz, who has already reportedly pleaded guilty in a related federal case.
In addition, the indictment claims that Henon and Dougherty in 2015 conspired to help pass the city’s soda tax as a way to hurt the Teamsters Union, which had just run an advertisement criticizing Dougherty.
Prosecutors also allege Henon opposed an audit of the Philadelphia Parking Authority in exchange for $3,105 in material for work at a friend’s house, and delayed legislation on a new plumbing code to help Dougherty be elected head of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council.
“In essence, the indictment alleges that Henon abdicated his duty to provide honest services to the citizens of Philadelphia because he made decisions on behalf of John Dougherty, rather than the people who elected him to City Council,” Arbittier Williams said at a news conference.
Brian McMonagle, Henon’s attorney, vigorously defended the councilman outside the courthouse Thursday afternoon.
“As far as we’re concerned, this is a travesty of justice,” he said.
McMonagle painted Henon as a loyal union member who was elected to serve the interests of organized labor, including Dougherty and Local 98.
“Anybody who is a union worker in this city, in Bob Henon’s belief, is his constituent, is a person that he’s going to go to bat for,” McMonagle said.
Mayor Jim Kenney, whose name was not mentioned in the indictment, said he was “deeply disappointed” to learn of the charges against Henon and Dougherty. In a statement, the mayor also called the allegations “disturbing.”
“Whatever the councilman decides to do next regarding his council position, I hope he considers the impact these proceedings have on his ability to serve the residents of the Sixth Councilmanic District who elected him to office,” Kenney said.
Council President Darrell Clarke last Wednesday said the charges against Henon are “grave and must be taken seriously” but he stopped short of calling on Henon, who serves as Council’s majority leader, to step down.
“The law is clear on our obligation as a city if the charges are indeed proven true,” Clarke said in a statement. “Until that time, Majority Leader Henon is entitled to defend himself if he believes the government’s allegations to be erroneous.”
The wide-ranging indictment also includes allegations that Dougherty and his associates stole thousands of dollars from Local 98 accounts for personal use and to help family members and friends.
Also charged as part of the indictment were Local 98 President Brian Burrows; Michael Neill, training director of the union’s Apprentice Training Fund; Local 98 Political Director Marita Crawford; contractor Anthony Massa; and union employees Niko Rodriguez and Brian Fiocca.
Prosecutors allege Dougherty and the other Local 98 officials embezzled more than $600,000 from the union and its training program and falsified expense and tax records.
“Union leaders and public officials are held to similar standards,” Arbittier Williams said. “Both are required to act in the best interests of others. When they violate that duty in order to enrich themselves, it’s a federal crime.”
FBI Special Agent Michael Harpster, who leads the agency’s Philadelphia division, stressed that the case is not against Local 98. Rather, the union’s members are the real victims, Harpster said, and he urged them to read the indictment.
Dougherty’s attorney Henry Hockeimer released a statement defending the union boss, who has led Local 98 since 1993.
“To allege that John in any way attempted to defraud the union he cares about so deeply is preposterous,” Hockeimer said. “He looks forward to his day in court and the opportunity to clear his name.”
Arbittier Williams said the U.S. Attorney’s Office intends to try all eight defendants together. She also said the probe that led to the charges is ongoing, but declined to comment on whether any other city lawmakers or officials are under investigation. ••
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org