Johnny Doc and Local 98 face state grand jury probe of alleged threats, intimidation

John Dougherty speaks to the media on East Moyamensing Avenue on Friday as authorities were seizing boxes of paperwork and computer hard drives as part of their investigation.

Even as union leader John J. Dougherty confronts an extensive federal investigation that surfaced Friday in a spate of raids across Philadelphia and South Jersey, his union is facing an aggressive grand jury inquiry by the state Attorney General's Office, the Inquirer has learned.

The state investigation - unrelated to the federal probe - began in February as an inquiry into two violent clashes at a South Philadelphia job site, but state prosecutors have expanded its focus to look more broadly into allegations of a pattern of intimidation by electricians Local 98, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

While the federal investigation focuses on Dougherty's finances and the union's donations to political campaigns, the state probe is examining the pressure the union applies to persuade contractors to hire union workers.

Frank Keel, a spokesman for Dougherty's union, said the local played by the rules.

"Any allegations that the union engaged in threats or intimidation are utter fabrications," Keel said in a statement." He said union officials would cooperate with state authorities.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Erik Olsen, who is leading the state investigation, declined comment.

In the raids early Friday, FBI agents searched Dougherty's home, his sister's home next door, the union headquarters and hall, the Mount Laurel home of the union's president, and the City Hall and district offices of Councilman Bobby Henon, who works for Dougherty's local.

Dougherty's lawyer, Henry E. Hockeimer Jr., said Friday that after exhaustive federal scrutiny of both his client and the union, Local 98 has imposed tough auditing controls to ensure the integrity of its financial transactions.

A person familiar with the federal investigation said it focused on the union's finances and its support of the political campaigns of Mayor Kenney and state Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty, who is Dougherty's brother. Federal authorities are also scrutinizing Dougherty's personal finances and taxes, the source said.

For decades, as Local 98 of the electricians union has gained power and Dougherty, prominence, critics have said the union uses bullying and intimidation to win its way - both at the job site and at the polling booth. At the end of the 1990s, the National Labor Relations Board described the union as "masters when it comes to unlawful . . . conduct, intimidation, and coercion."

In 2004, the federal appeals court in Philadelphia said the union had committed "multiple unfair labor practices" at four job sites, targeting employers who hired nonunion electricians.

More recently, developer Ken Weinstein has complained that he got an intimidating response when he did not hire union electricians for a project to renovate a vacant Gothic church in Germantown to make it a school.

In 2014, he said, union protesters picketing a restaurant he owns told customers he paid his staff less than the minimum wage and that patrons would get food poisoning. At one point, Weinstein said, a demonstrator told him he knew where the Weinstein family lived.

At the time, Dougherty denied that his union was doing anything but conducting "a peaceful, lawful protest."

"Ken Weinstein is a greedy profiteer," the union leader said in a statement to the media in 2014. "Weinstein is a fraud and has been put on legal notice to cease and desist with his lies about Local 98."

Before the conflict with Weinstein, the developers of a $38 million apartment rehab in the city's Loft District faced stiff union resistance, including months of picketing in 2012, after refusing to hire union labor. Co-developer Michael Pestronk said he and his girlfriend were even followed.

Pestronk and his brother, Matthew, who do business as the Post Brothers, also said Local 98 made a documentary film attacking their project - a movie they said was filled with lies. Dougherty has said the brothers' complaints had no merit.

Dougherty and the Pestronks later put their differences behind them, with Dougherty saying he wished the union had found a way to work with the brothers sooner. At their next big project, the brothers said they were using only union labor.

Keel, the spokesman for Local 98, said the attorney general's investigation was misguided.

He called it "odd that the A.G. is investigating a fistfight on a construction site and probing the union's peaceful, lawful protest actions against Ken Weinstein and the Post Brothers. In both situations, IBEW Local 98 reached amicable resolutions with the parties and there were never any charges filed against Local 98 or John Dougherty."

In February, the spokesman for Attorney General Kathleen Kane said the office would investigate a Jan. 21 brawl in which Dougherty and three union members tangled with a nonunion electrical worker at a condo project in South Philadelphia that has long been the subject of union protest over the use of nonunion labor. The site is not far from Dougherty's Pennsport home, which was raided Friday morning by the FBI.

Later, the state investigation began to explore another brawl at the same work site after the Inquirer reported that Dougherty had suffered a cut on the head in a May 2014 confrontation with a different group of nonunion workers there.

In that clash, Dougherty said he was hurt when struck by a brick thrown by a nonunion crew. The crew said Dougherty hurt himself when he stumbled while he and other members of Local 98 were menacingly advancing toward them. Police said both sides threw objects at each other.

No arrests have been made in either the 2014 or 2016 incidents. In an interview with the Inquirer, a witness to one of the confrontations said he was unnerved to be called before the grand jury in Norristown, but testified as to what he saw.

Kane agreed to investigate after Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams appealed for state prosecutors to step in. Williams said he and his prosecutors had to bow out because he had "a long-standing professional relationship with Mr. Dougherty."

The statement did not elaborate, but Local 98's political action committee has given $17,500 to Williams' campaign fund in recent years. Conversely, though Williams and Dougherty are both Democrats, Williams once texted that people in politics needed to "watch your back" when it came to the union leader.

As Kane's office took on the case, her spokesman said that she, too, would recuse herself from any decisions in the matter "to avoid the appearance of a conflict due to the high-profile nature of Mr. Dougherty, who was a donor to Attorney General Kane in 2013." Local 98 has given $20,000 to Kane's campaign fund.

Kane is to go on trial Monday on perjury and other charges in an unrelated criminal case, and her law license has been suspended pending the outcome of that trial. The office's first deputy, Bruce Castor, has been overseeing the agency's investigations.

The battleground for the 2014 and 2016 clashes is the site for a dozen townhouses, four-story units with roof decks and garages, selling for more than $600,000 and developed by jeweler Barry Sable.

In late 2013, Local 98 sent Sable a letter demanding that he say whether he was paying union wages. Sable ignored it, and the union brought out its 12-foot-high inflatable rat, which it regularly stations near job sites where it says workers are paid low wages.

Then, on the day of the clash, Dougherty pulled up alone in his car at the site. Nonunion bricklayers had strung a hose across the street, tapping a hydrant for water to keep construction dust down. A shouting match erupted, and more union members quickly arrived.

"The situation escalated where objects where thrown at one another," the police report on the incident said, blaming both sides for the fight.

In the end, Dougherty was left with the cut and nonunion bricklayer Brandon Bradbury told police Dougherty and his men had attacked him. By Dougherty's account, nonunion workers immediately challenged him, with one screaming "like a madman," another spitting at him, and a third brandishing a knife.

Both sides had witnesses, each blaming the other. Dougherty brought in his chiropractor, James Moylan, whose office was near the site. Moylan, chair of the city zoning board and a former political consultant to Local 98, did not return a call for comment Friday. Bradbury declined comment.

The brawl this year erupted over a union decal on the vehicle of a nonunion worker.

Joshua Keesee, a nonunion electrician, said Dougherty approached him at Third and Reed Streets and told him to remove the sticker from the window of his van and the conversation quickly grew heated.

Keesee said Dougherty struck him with a left-right combo, breaking his nose.

A witness said Dougherty and several of his men charged at Keesee. A police report filed at the time of the incident said Dougherty hit Keesee with "a closed fist and three other males continued to punch and kick him."

Dougherty vigorously disputed that account. He said Keesee had threatened his family and rushed at him.

Partial video of the incident could not resolve who struck first, but showed that one of the men with the union leader ended up bleeding from a wound over his left eye.

cmccoy@phillynews.com

215-854-4821

@CraigRMcCoy

Staff writer William Bender contributed to this article.