Don’t tell International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 that lightning can’t strike twice in the same place. For them, it’s now happened. Around 7 A.M., October 16, FBI agents raided the headquarters of the Philadelphia union in search of evidence of threats of violent retaliation by union leaders against certain dissenting members. Authorities would not say if the search was related to an August 2016 FBI raid connected to an influence-peddling scandal implicating IBEW Local 98 Business Manager John Dougherty, Philadelphia City Council Member Bobby Henon, and certain other persons. That case produced multiple indictments a couple years later for bribery, embezzlement, concealment, and tax evasion. A former City official and an unindicted contractor thus far have pleaded guilty.
IBEW Local 98, with about 5,000 active members, for decades has been close to Philadelphia’s construction industry and City Hall. Some might say too close. On January 30, 2019, a federal grand jury handed down a 116-count indictment against eight persons for a wide range of offenses. Six of the defendants were current or former union officials/members, including Business Manager John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, who allegedly embezzled funds to enrich himself, family and friends, and bribed Philadelphia City Council Member Bobby Henon with a $70,000 union salary as an inducement to pressure fellow council members into supporting union interests. Dougherty, Henon and most of the other defendants have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial; Dougherty and Henon’s trials very recently were postponed. Two defendants have been convicted. This past January, James Moylan, former chairman of the City of Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustments, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for wire fraud and tax evasion after pleading guilty in October 2019. He also was ordered to pay more than $130,000 in combined restitution to the union and the IRS. In the other case, a New Jersey-based contractor, George Peltz, though not named as a defendant in the indictment, was sentenced in May 2019 to 18 months in prison for bribery, theft and tax fraud related to business with IBEW Local 98. He also had paid nearly $1 million in restitution.
Was the FBI raid nearly two weeks ago at the local office on Spring Garden Street an outgrowth of this scandal? Were Dougherty and other union higher-ups bent on silencing whistleblowers within the union who knew too much? The authorities aren’t saying anything. And Local 98 is steadfastly denouncing the raid. “We have no idea why the feds staged today’s made-for-TV event,” said union spokesman Frank Keel. “John Dougherty has been under federal scrutiny for 28 years and has never once failed to cooperate. Everything they took today, they either took previously or could have simply asked for it and we would have turned it over.” The union, he emphasized, “has no knowledge” about any motives behind the raid. A good deal more may be known when the remaining defendants go to trial – whenever that is.