During the Democratic National Convention, the office of Philadelphia’s most powerful construction union stood out, decked in an enormous sign declaring “Hillary for President.” But on Friday morning, the union headquarters captured public attention for a different reason: a yellow Penske semi-truck parked on the curb outside, packed with dozens of boxes of evidence lugged out of the office by federal agents.
Authorities raided not only the office of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 but also the home of its powerful leader, John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, who is also head of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council. In addition, law enforcement searched a pub run by Johnny Doc and other union bosses, as well as the offices of a labor-connected Philadelphia city councilman.
The searches occurred just a week after Johnny Doc and the construction unions played a central behind-the-scenes role at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Earlier this year, Johnny Doc had accompanied Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Congressman Bob Brady for a meeting with Hillary Clinton to discuss union issues, including project-labor agreements, posing for a photo with her:
And in June, Johnny Doc inked a project-labor agreement with the DNC, vowing not to strike or picket; in exchange, Democratic officials used union labor for hundreds of convention-related positions. Johnny Doc posted Facebook photos of himself at the convention site last week and told the Philadelphia Inquirer his union spent more than $80,000 on parties attended by local power brokers.
Such flashy expenditures may now be central to a growing federal probe of Johnny Doc and his union. The Inquirer reported that the investigation involves agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service, focusing on the “alleged misuse of union funds.”
Already, some rank-and-file Local 98 members held grudges about how union funds collected through dues, as well as money they are pressured to contribute to the union’s political action committee, ended up at a bar operated by top union brass, Doc’s Union Pub, which was searched Friday.
Since 2012, Local 98’s PAC has directly spent more than $206,000 at Doc’s Union Pub; in 2015, the union also spent $5,500 in union dues at the restaurant, Heat Street has discovered after reviewing Federal Election Commission records.
In the last decade, Local 98’s PAC has also spent more than $364,000 at Mike Connell Catering, a catering company that appears to operate solely out of Doc’s Union Pub, the records show.
Similarly, between 2001 and 2012 alone, Local 98-supported political candidates and committees spent more than $455,000 at Doc’s Union Pub and Mike Connell Catering.
The union’s Department of Labor disclosures also contain some eyebrow-raising expenditures.
In the past few years, Local 98 has spent more than $12,000 for “holiday gifts” at the luxury retailer Coach; more than $32,000 for the services of a massage therapist; and hundreds of thousands of dollars on “tickets to promote job creation” at Philadelphia football, baseball and hockey games.
This isn’t the first time Johnny Doc’s dealings have drawn federal scrutiny. A decade ago, the FBI searched the union boss’s home, failing to file charges though the search warrant alleged that the union boss’s bank account showed strange movement of large amounts of money in “what appears to be an effort to conceal financial dealings.”
Similarly, an electrical contractor pleaded guilty in 2008 to 99 counts, including illegally providing a bribe, payment, or thing of value to a Local 98 leader—in this case, $115,600 in free work on Johnny Doc’s East Moyamensing row house, the same one searched Friday. Johnny Doc was never charged in connection with the case, though the same law prohibits union officials from receiving such gifts.
That same electrical contractor, Donald “Gus” Dougherty, who is not related to Johnny Doc but has been his friend since childhood, also pleaded guilty to stealing from Local 98’s health and welfare fund. But since his release from prison in 2010, Local 98 has paid his company, Dougherty Electric, $470,000 for a “market recovery supplement,” also listing “subsidy to contractor to create jobs” in several Department of Labor filings.
Beyond Local 98’s financial dealings, Johnny Doc has also received other recent scrutiny. As Heat Street reported earlier this year, the union spent more than $10,000 on three drones, deploying one to tape the work site of a builder who did not use entirely union labor on a hotel project. And in February, Johnny Doc was accused of punching a non-union worker in the face.
Local 98’s spokesman, Frank Keel, says the union and Johnny Doc are cooperating with law enforcement.
“Local 98 undergoes an extensive annual audit and is subject to many layers of financial controls and oversights, which makes us question media reports of allegations of financial impropriety as the basis of the investigation,” Keel said in an emailed statement to Heat Street. “Similarly, the search of John’s home is puzzling, since nothing in it or about it has changed since the last time the FBI searched it a decade ago.”
The FBI could not be reached for comment.
In 2015, several union members from Philadelphia’s Ironworkers Local 401 were convicted of running their union like an organized-crime syndicate. The FBI had successfully charged them with federal crimes including arson, violent crime in the aid of racketeering, and conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.