The wheels of justice turn slowly. That’s especially so for Philadelphia labor leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, City Councilmember Bobby Henon and a battery of officials with the IBEW Local 98 electricians’ union.
The federal bribery trial involving the group has been postponed again. Jury selection is now set to begin in January 2021, according to court documents filed in September.
Such delays can happen in normal times, especially with high-profile cases. It’s unclear whether this postponement is a result of ongoing court issues caused by the pandemic, or a matter of drawn out pre-trial proceedings. Last month, a federal judge shot down a request by the building trades leader and his ally councilmember to dismiss the case before it reached a jury.
U.S. prosecutors allege Dougherty and other union members siphoned more than $600,000 from the politically powerful chapter of the electricians’ union. They also claim Henon, a former electrician and current paid employee of Local 98, carried out Dougherty’s bidding in City Hall in exchange for a plum side gig. The defendants have denied all charges.
This is the second date change in the high-profile case in less than a year. In fall 2019, a judge ordered proceedings to begin this September, then pushed things back to October. Frank Keel, spokesperson for IBEW Local 98 and Doughtery, predicted the trial could be pushed back even further down the road.
“That date is subject to change given the backlog of federal court cases during COVID-19,” Keel said.
Leveled in January 2019, the 116-count indictment alleges Doughtery used the union’s coffers like a “slush fund” while taking advantage of Henon to advance his interests in City Hall, and that Henon took kickbacks in the form of a paid union staff position.
Doughtery’s attorneys counter that the labor leader’s work with Henon amounted to “lawful lobbying,” while Henon’s defense maintains federal prosecutors have failed to describe how a long-held side job could be construed as a bribe. Pa. law allows City Councilmembers to maintain outside employment.
If the trial does begin in January, it will be nearly five years since federal agents executed a string of high-profile raids on Dougherty’s South Philly home and other locations — including Henon’s office in City Hall. The raids ignited scrutiny into both the union leadership and the councilmember.
For Henon, who continues to hold a nondescript $73,000-a-year job on the union’s payroll, the investigation has cast a pall over his daily work in City Hall. By the time the trial goes to court, the legislator representing Northeast Philly will have been under criminal investigation or indictment for the equivalent of an entire four-year term on Council — and then some.
Attorneys in the case did not respond to immediate requests for comment.