Nov 16, 2021 - News

Philly labor leader and councilmember found guilty in bribery trial

Philadelphia Councilman Bobby Henon.

Philadelphia City Councilmember Bobby Henon. Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers/Getty Images

Jurors found Philadelphia labor union leader John Dougherty and City Councilmember Bobby Henon guilty of conspiracy changes in a federal bribery trial Monday.

Why it matters: The decision could shake up Philadelphia politics and leave a vacant city council seat in the coming months.

  • Dougherty — who has amassed significant political power by backing state and local candidates for office with campaign cash — is among the most powerful labor leaders in the state.
  • Henon, a three-term Democrat who represents District 6 in the northeast, is required to resign from office by the time of his sentencing.

Driving the news: Dougherty, the long-time business manager of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), was convicted Monday of eight counts, including conspiracy and honest services wire fraud.

  • Henon was found guilty of 10 counts, including bribery and conspiracy.

Of note: The jury acquitted Dougherty on three additional counts of honest services fraud and Henon of eight additional counts, including fraud and bribery.

State of play: Federal prosecutors had accused Dougherty, known as "Johnny Doc," of essentially buying Henon's vote in exchange for keeping the councilmember on the IBEW's payroll with a $70,000-a-year, no-show job, among other things.

  • The men were indicted in January 2019.

What they're saying: Dougherty, who also heads the Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council, said in a released statement Monday that he plans to appeal the decision.

  • "What Councilman Henon and I were found guilty of is how business and politics are typically and properly conducted," he said.

The other side: Jennifer Williams, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said the guilty verdict sends a "strong message to the political power players" that public corruption will not be tolerated as "business as usual."

  • Williams said Dougherty was Henon's "political godfather."

Pat Christmas, policy director for city government watchdog group the Committee of 70, called the verdict a "breaking point" for Philadelphia politics.

  • "It makes this sort of full-fledged, transactional, in-your-pocket relationship not only cross the ethical line but the legal line as well," Christmas said.

Between the lines: Henon's term was set to finish at the end of 2023.

  • Council President Darrell Clarke has the power to call a special election when Henon's seat becomes vacant, per the city's Home Rule Charter.

Of note: Clarke spokesperson Joe Grace declined a request for comment about Henon's resignation.

  • But Clarke said in a released statement, "While it is always difficult to learn of a guilty verdict on conspiracy charges of a member of this legislative body, the jury has spoken, and we respect its verdict."

Meanwhile, Dougherty will remain the head of Local 98 for now, union spokesperson Frank Keel said after the verdict.

  • "John Dougherty has led this wonderful union for 30 years, and until an appeal process is completed, he will continue to lead this union," Keel said.

Mayor Jim Kenney's Office told Axios he appreciates the jurors who evaluated the case but didn't say whether or not the mayor supports the decision.

  • The spokesperson also didn't answer a question about whether Henon should step down.
  • "The Mayor expects Councilman Henon will do what he feels is right for the city and his constituents," the spokesperson said.

What's ahead: Sentencing is set for February.


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