Jury in Dougherty-Henon corruption trial asks for guidance as deliberations continue


John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty walks to the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, to face charges in his corruption trial. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

As the jury in the federal corruption trial of City Councilmember Bobby Henon and labor leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty continues its second day of deliberations, the jurors asked the judge Thursday morning to re-read them guidance on when campaign contributions may be considered bribes.

The request shows the jury is deliberating on charges that Henon held a City Council hearing in April 2016 in exchange for bribes from the Communication Workers of America union, which gave him three contributions worth a combined $13,000 in the period before and after the hearing. The charges are among those targeting only Henon and not Dougherty.

The jurors’ question may also indicate they are nearing the end of their deliberations. The CWA-related counts are listed toward the bottom of the verdict sheet where they mark their decisions, although they could be considering the counts in a different order.

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The ostensible topic of the hearing was the status of Verizon’s Fios cable buildout in the city. But wiretapped phone calls showed that CWA President Jim Gardler had earlier asked Henon to hold the hearing to generate negative publicity for Verizon as the union struggled through difficult contract negotiations with the telecommunications giant.

“Have them come in and answer questions in a public hearing,” Gardler urged Henon. “Make ’em sweat a little bit. I think it helps us a bit.”

Henon later told Gardler he could schedule a hearing for December 2015, “use that as leverage” against Verizon, then cancel the hearing and schedule a new one the following year. CWA was on strike against Verizon when the hearing eventually took place in 2016, and filled the council chambers with workers who jeered company executives during their testimony.

Henon’s attorney has argued that Henon had legitimate reasons for holding the hearing, as some city residents had complained that Verizon was bypassing their homes when it laid out its Fios network, and other council members were also concerned. He also noted that similar hearings in New York had found that Verizon had not fulfilled all its obligations during a network buildout there.

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“So it wasn’t just Councilman Henon who was asking questions about delays,” attorney Brian McMonagle said while questioning a witness last month.

The guidance that Judge Jeffrey Schmehl read in court stated that campaign contributions differ from other types of bribes in the definition of the “quid pro quo,” or agreement to exchange an official action for something of value, that must be present.

While prosecutors do not have to produce evidence of a formal agreement, the agreement must be “clear and unambiguous” and involve specific actions by the official, Schmehl said.

Question on honest services wire fraud

Judge Schmehl recessed the trial for the day after jurors asked for additional guidance on another subset of the charges they are deliberating.

At about 4:30 p.m., Schmehl entered the courtroom and said the jury had asked him to read out a definition of honest services wire fraud, the crime alleged in several of the counts Henon and Dougherty face.

Henon is accused of depriving his constituents of the honest services he owes them as a City Council member by acting instead on Dougherty’s behalf in certain matters. Each wire or mail transaction related to an alleged fraud is a separate offense.

The individual counts stem from the electronic transmission of salary payments Henon received from IBEW Local 98; a phone call made between New Jersey and Pennsylvania; an email sent regarding towing legislation; and three checks for campaign contributions the Communication Workers of America union sent to Henon’s campaign account.

Rather than spend 15 minutes reading the legal definition, which would leave the jury little time to deliberate before the end of the day, Schmehl asked if they would prefer to wait until the morning. The jurors agreed and Schmehl asked all the trial participants to return for an early start at 9 a.m. Friday.

Throughout the day on Thursday, Schmehl occasionally called the prosecutors and defense attorneys into his office so they could provide evidence requested by the jury or discuss legal questions that came up during the deliberations. He did not disclose any of those jury issues in open court.

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