PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Flashing a smile in a packed Philadelphia federal courtroom, powerful electricians’ union leader John “Doc” Dougherty pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of embezzlement, bribery and theft of union funds.
Wearing a blue suit and lighter blue tie, Dougherty, 58, squeezed and patted lawyers’ arms before the formal arraignment, introducing himself with a smile.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Hey released the union official on a $50,000 bail, noting that he should limit his communications with potential witnesses to work-related exchanges.
His lawyer, Henry Hockeimer, Jr. of Ballard Spahr, agreed that Dougherty – leader of the Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – would comply.
On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania filed a 116-count indictment accusing Dougherty – along with a city councilman, five union employees and a local business owner – of embezzling at least $600,000 from the union and its apprentice training fund. The charging document details alleged crimes between 2010 and 2016.
The indictment claims Dougherty, who has served as business manager of the Local 98 since 1993, used the union’s funds “as his personal bank account and as a means to obtain employment for himself, his family, and his friends.”
According to prosecutors, Dougherty used, and allowed others to use, three Local 98 American Express credit cards in his name to make personal purchases, including groceries, household supplies and meals.
Union money was allegedly used to buy “diapers, baby wipes, Pam cooking oil, mouthwash, laundry detergent, room deodorizer, home doormat, cleaning products, and bottled water.”
Other purchases detailed in the indictment include $567 in men’s clothing, a bed from IKEA and a washing machine. A movie theater gift card and Disney character pillows and blankets were written off as “office supplies,” according to the indictment.
“Under federal law, and the constitution and by-laws of the union, these assets could only be used for legitimate business expenses of the union,” the document states. “The leadership and other members of Local 98 were prohibited from using the funds and other assets of Local 98 for their personal benefit.”
Dougherty also allegedly used union funds to pay contractors who did plumbing, roof, and wall repairs on a South Philadelphia tavern he owns, as well as work done on his home.
He then directed subordinate employees to write off his fraudulent expenditures as union-related purchases, prosecutors claim, manipulating the union’s reporting and auditing requirements to hide his thefts.
The indictment also says Dougherty hired friends and family members and gave them raises and extra pay for hours they never worked or time spent doing personal tasks for him.
It lists one text message exchange in which a union employee allegedly asked Dougherty if he should water the tomatoes while he and others washed the sidewalks in front of the union leader’s house.
“Yes!!!” Dougherty texted back enthusiastically, according to the indictment.
In another incident, Dougherty is accused of instructing the same employee to drive to his New Jersey beach house and bring back samples of the pool water.
While Dougherty and his union were big supporters of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, Kenney said at a press conference Wednesday that his office would not be implicated.
“We’ve had conversations with the U.S. attorney’s office. No one in the administration, not myself or anyone, is involved,” Kenney said, noting that “mostly every union in the city” supported him in the election.
Dougherty has also thrown Local 98’s financial backing to his younger brother, Kevin Dougherty, who won a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2015.
Other defendants include Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon, Local 98 employees Brian Burrows, Michael Neill, Marita Crawford, Niko Rodriguez and Brian Fiocca, and Anthony Massa, owner of a local construction business.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gallagher represented the government at the arraignment.