FBI digs deep in probe of Dougherty and union

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Electricians union leader John Dougherty was wiretapped for 16 months by the FBI.

Almost a year after FBI agents raided the offices of Philadelphia labor leader John Dougherty and his electricians’ union, the sweeping scope of its investigation is becoming evident.

Search warrants and the recent disclosure of long-running wiretaps make clear that the federal inquiry extends to virtually every aspect of the union’s operations, as well as Dougherty’s personal finances.

Along the way, it has touched a broad swath of Philadelphia’s political class and even reached into the office of Mayor Kenney, whose voice, like scores of others, was picked up on wiretaps placed on the union leader’s phone.

Federal prosecutors are examining everything from the campaign donations that have made the union a political powerhouse and Dougherty a kingmaker, to the union’s turbulent and sometimes violent relationship with nonunion contractors. They also are exploring the union’s dealings with the Kenney administration.

Documents obtained by The Inquirer and Daily News last week also outline a broad array of crimes federal prosecutors believe may have been committed.

The warrant authorizing the August 2016 search of the union’s offices in Philadelphia states that FBI agents were seeking evidence of embezzlement, attempted extortion of contractors, mail and wire fraud, tax evasion, and honest services fraud by public officials.

Investigators are also exploring possible embezzlement from employee benefit plans and unlawful payments to felons, said the warrant.

James B. Jacobs, a labor expert and a professor at New York University law school, said he knew of no other federal labor probe in recent years as vast as the Philadelphia inquiry.

“It has so many pieces,” Jacobs said. “What you’re talking about is a whole systemic investigation.”

But Paul Messing, a prominent criminal defense lawyer, cautioned that an investigation, no matter how sweeping, does not guarantee a successful prosecution – or even criminal charges.

“It’s not uncommon for federal investigations to go nowhere and to produce no indictments,” he said.

Dougherty, 57, has led the 4,700-member Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers since 1993. He has built the union into a potent economic and political force.

Frank Keel, a spokesman for the union, said in a statement Friday that the federal search warrant amounted to nothing more than a “fishing expedition.”

“Despite being subjected to annual audits, this appears to be an effort by the government to scrutinize every aspect of Local 98,” he said.

In a separate statement, Dougherty criticized any story based  on “a leaked document.” He said it was “extremely unfair and possibly unethical” for the newspapers to publish names listed in the search warrant “when none of them have been implicated in any wrongdoing.”

This is the second federal investigation of Dougherty, who was paid $406,532 in salary and expenses last year, records show. A decade ago, the first inquiry led to the conviction of an electrical contractor with ties to the union, but no charges against Dougherty or any other Local 98 officials.

The recent mass distribution of so-called intercept letters suggests that this latest investigation has entered an advanced stage. The letters notify individuals they have been heard on existing wiretaps, but do not signify any wrongdoing on their part.

Federal prosecutors declined to comment for this article.

In simultaneous raids last August, FBI and IRS agents searched more than half a dozen locations, including the union offices, Dougherty’s home in Pennsport and his sister’s house next door, the Mount Laurel home of union president Brian Burrows, and the City Hall and district offices of City Councilman Bobby Henon, who also holds a paid position with the union.

Dougherty, widely known as “Johnny Doc,” nonchalantly served iced tea and doughnuts to reporters who gathered outside his Moyamensing Avenue home on the day it was searched.

He did not know it, but investigators had been tapping his cellphone conversations for 16 months.

The length of the wiretaps is significant. To tap calls, prosecutors must convince a judge there is evidence that a crime has been committed. The wiretaps are reviewed on a monthly basis by the judge. They are kept in place only if the judge believes they are picking up useful information.

L. George Parry, a former federal prosecutor, said the duration of the wiretap seemed promising for prosecutors. “It’s not like they went up on these phones and hit a dry hole,” he said.

The breadth of the federal inquiry can be gauged from contents of the search warrant for the raid on Local 98 headquarters, approved last year by U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry S. Perkin.

The legal document demanded contracts, canceled checks, emails, and any other communications with more than 60 people and companies.  The list included top union officials, contractors, political consultants, and officials, elected and appointed, with ties to the union. A spa and a massage therapist also drew scrutiny.

The nine-page search warrant obtained by The Inquirer and Daily News described in detail what prosecutors were seeking. The document did not lay out the underlying evidence that prosecutors had assembled to present to a judge to justify the search in the first place.

The newspapers sought to reach those named in the warrant. Most declined comment or did not return phone calls and emails. Simply being named in a search warrant is not an implication of wrongdoing.

In addition to seeking records from Dougherty, federal investigators sought documents related to the union’s president, two executive board members, and three business agents.

Among the nearly two dozen union staffers named in the warrant were two who were with Dougherty last year when the labor leader brawled with a nonunion electrician at a job site in South Philadelphia.

Federal investigators also sought documents and emails relating to union picketing and other job actions against nonunion contractors as well as reports by Local 98 officials on nonunion job sites.

Personal financial records of Dougherty and his wife, Cecelia, were sought, including bank and credit card records and tax returns.

The search warrant put Dougherty’s family ties to his union on display as well.

For instance, it sought information about his daughter Erin, 36. She is the chief executive of Philadelphia Electrical & Technology Charter High School, which her father and the union founded in Center City in 2002. Investigators also sought records of any union payments to the school.

Tara Chupka lived with Dougherty’s family when she was a teen and now works as a lawyer for Local 98. The warrant sought financial records of her union ties.

Investigators sought records related to Dougherty’s sister, Maureen Fiocca, an office worker for the union, and any payments to Fiocca’s sons — George, Brian, and Greg. George Fiocca III works at the charter school his uncle founded, Brian Fiocca is a Local 98 union organizer. Greg Fiocca’s job could not immediately be learned.

The search warrant suggested that federal authorities are taking an interest in the links between Local 98 and the Kenney administration.

The labor leader was a key early supporter of Kenney in his bid for mayor. When he took office last year, Kenney appointed Local 98 loyalists to several significant positions, including the chairmanship of the Zoning Board.

Prosecutors sought correspondence and other documents from three current and former members of Kenney’s administration. Among them was Richard Lazer, Kenney’s deputy mayor for labor.  Dougherty attended the news conference at which Kenney announced Lazer’s appointment.

The warrant sought similar information about Lazer’s wife, Lindsey, who according to union records was a Local 98 staffer in 2014 and 2015.

Richard Lazer, through a city spokesman, declined comment. Lawyer David H. Conroy, who represents Lindsey Lazer, said: “At this point, we don’t have any comment.”

Federal investigators also asked for information about the union’s dealings with Christopher Rupe, who has worked as chief of staff for the city Managing Director’s Office since January 2016. Before that he was Local 98’s legislative affairs director. In 2015, he was treasurer for a Dougherty-backed PAC that aired some of the first television advertising in support of Kenney’s mayoral campaign.

Investigators are also exploring the union’s dealings with James Moylan, whom Kenney appointed as head of the city’s Zoning Board last year. Moylan, a civic leader and Dougherty’s chiropractor, quit the position after news broke that his home and office had been searched as part of the federal probe.

In addition, the warrant demanded union records of correspondence and emails to and from the Zoning Board and the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections.

Kenney’s spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, said Friday that federal prosecutors had not subpoenaed the city seeking any correspondence between the Mayor’s Office and Local 98.  “The Mayor is not the target or the subject of the investigation,” she said.

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Local 98, under Dougherty, has spent heavily on a network of political consultants.

This spending, too, drew federal interest.

In the warrant, prosecutors sought information on the union’s dealings with more than a dozen consultants, including former Democratic U.S. Rep. Michael “Ozzie” Myers, who went to prison after accepting a $50,000 bribe in the 1980s Abscam sting. Campaign records show that the union has paid Myers more than $400,000 in recent years. In an interview Friday, Myers said he did consulting work for many clients, including Local 98. He declined to comment on the investigation.

They also asked about William R. Miller V. Records show that Local 98 has paid the political consultant and his firm more than $550,000 in the last four years.

Investigators also sought information about the union’s dealings with Daniel Pellicciotti and his Pyramid Consulting firm, a business paid more than $450,000 by Local 98 in recent years.

The warrant also demanded that the union provide information about payments and emails to and from consultant Michael Youngblood.

In an interview last week, Youngblood, who was wearing a gold “98” lapel pin, said he did not know why he was named in the warrant. A former boxer, Youngblood worked as a City Council staffer and later as a political activist and consultant. He has twice served time in prison, once for a federal drug conviction in the 1980s and then in 1999 after a conviction for extortion, bank fraud, and tax evasion.

The warrant also sought information about any payments to and communications with William DeWeese, a former Democratic House speaker who was convicted in 2012 of using public employees and taxpayer resources for political purposes.

Having served two years in prison, DeWeese is now a frequent presence in the state Capitol. Records show that Local 98 paid him and his company more than $95,000 in the last two years as a political consultant.

Reached in the hallway inside the Capitol this week, DeWeese declined to answer questions about the investigation.

Longtime labor leader Patrick Gillespie, a former head of the Building Trades Council, was also named in the warrant.

In an interview, Gillespie said federal authorities delivered a subpoena to him at his home last year, even before the raids. He declined to say what prosecutors were seeking.

Federal authorities also sought information about any communications with or payments to leaders of other unions, including Anthony Gallagher, business manager of Steamfitters Local 420.

“You know more than me, obviously,” Gallagher said when asked about the mention of his name on the search warrant. He said he had not been subpoenaed or had his records searched.

Investigators also asked about any payments to Thomas J. Kelly, general secretary-treasurer of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association in 2002.

Another aspect of the federal inquiry involves firms that have received union subsidies.

Investigators sought information about Local 98 payments to MJK Electrical Corp., and its top officials, president Michael J. Jones and vice president and treasurer George L. Peltz.

The company, with offices in Berlin, N.J., and Philadelphia, was paid $2.1 million by the union from 2010 to 2015, according to the federal Labor Department.

Most of that money was allocated to “market recovery,” a subsidy that unions pay to contractors so they can submit lower bids when they compete with nonunion firms.

The prosecutors also demanded to know about the union’s dealing with Donald “Gus” Dougherty, a South Philadelphia electrical contractor who is not related to John Dougherty but is a childhood friend.

In 2008, Donald Dougherty pleaded guilty to stealing more than $500,000 in “market recovery” money. He also pleaded guilty to providing $115,000 worth of free renovations on John Dougherty’s Philadelphia home.

Donald Dougherty served a two-year prison sentence. Since he left prison, Local 98 has continued to provide his firm recovery funding, paying it $470,000 from 2010 to 2015.

Along with spending on political consultants and contractor subsidies, Local 98 has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for recreational activities for its members. Records show that the union purchased tickets to sporting events, concerts, and the theater. It even spent money on back rubs for its electricians.

In disclosures with the U.S. Department of Labor, the union said it paid a masseuse and a spa almost $210,000 between 2008 and 2015. The money went to Heidi Winkel and her firm, Well Deserved Corporate Spa Services.

Winkel is a massage therapist at The Spa at the Sporting Club at the Bellevue. Local 98 said it had paid her at times for providing massages at union events, including chair massages at a holiday party.

Leaving no stone unturned, prosecutors said they wanted to know all about that, too.

Staff writers Chris Brennan, Angela Couloumbis, Dylan Purcell, Jane Von Bergen, and Martha Woodall contributed to this article.

Contact staff writer Nancy Phillips at 215-854-2254, nphillips@phillynews.com or @PhillipsNancy