Former Philly ironworkers boss Joseph Dougherty guilty

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 Signs of vandalism and arson are shown at the Chestnut Hill Meetinghouse site after a December 2012 fire. Prosecutors say this incident prompted an FBI investigation looking at union activities. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks

Signs of vandalism and arson are shown at the Chestnut Hill Meetinghouse site after a December 2012 fire. Prosecutors say this incident prompted an FBI investigation looking at union activities. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks

A federal jury has found former Philadelphia Ironworkers Local 401 boss Joseph Dougherty guilty of a racketeering conspiracy, multiple counts of arson and extortion.

Dougherty, 73,  faces a minimum of 15 years in prison where he was taken after the verdict was announced late Tuesday afternoon.

The 12-member jury deliberated for five days before arriving at that verdict. 

While deliberating, the jury returned to court several times during its discussions to ask for legal definitions and recordings of FBI-tapped phone conversations.

The seven-day trial ended on Jan. 13. While the jury began deliberations that day, Dougherty was transported to Pennsylvania Hospital after complaining of breathing problems. 

The FBI launched an investigation into the union’s activities after a Dec. 2012 arson attack at the site of a Quaker meetinghouse being built in Chestnut Hill.

During the trial, two counts against Dougherty involving the meetinghouse were dropped. According to reports, U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson granted a defense motion to dismiss the counts, ruling there was not enough evidence linking Dougherty to the acts of arson at the East Mermaid Lane site.

The FBI looked into union jobs dating back to 2010, examining union members’ involvement in acts of arson or extortion on 25 different job sites.

The sites included a Toys R Us store near the King of Prussia mall, a Planet Fitness location in Roxborough, an Olive Garden restaurant in Montgomery County and a La Colombe warehouse.

FBI agents gained access to cellphone records and text messages and tapped the phones of the union’s Northeast Philadelphia headquarters, as well as the cellphones of high-level union “business agents,” who Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Livermore said were in charge of carrying out acts of intimidation or violence.

“It was a union that was run through criminal activity, that’s how it was operated,” Livermore said following the verdict. “On a weekly basis, if not a daily basis, they talked about committing crimes, committing extortion, things of that nature.”

The prosecution said Dougherty took advantage of working-class ironworkers who saw this as a way to move up the ranks and guarantee themselves jobs.

“Ironworkers who joined goon squads got the best jobs and promotions,” said Livermore in his opening statement on Jan. 5. “Union members faced a stark choice: Join the goon squad or get in the back of the line for a job.”

Twelve high-level union members and officials were indicted with charges in February. Eleven pleaded guilty. Some of those members eventually testified against Dougherty during the trial. 

During his opening and closing statements, defense attorney Fortunato N. Perri Jr. implored the jury not to trust the testimony of union members who pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for lighter penalties. 

Perri said the bulk of recorded evidence against his client made for a difficut defense.

“Although we were successful in the two lead counts having to do with the Quaker meetinghouse fires, we are disappointed the jury returned the verdict that they did,” Perri said Tuesday. “We knew from the outset there was a significant amount of evidence presented by the government, which included 11 cooperating irownworkers and 56 recorded phone calls.”

Dougherty’s son, Joseph Jr., spoke briefly to reporters as the family left the U.S. courthouse.”We love our father, we believe our father,” he said. “We believe in his innocence 100 percent.”Dougherty was taken to federal prison because he faces a minimum 15-year sentence in the case.  His attorney plans to argue for a temporary release or house arrest so Dougherty can attend to medical issues  before his sentencing.

Prosecutor Robert Livermore presented recorded evidence including phone calls that former Ironworkers union head Joseph Dougherty used intimidation to get work for his members.”It was a union that was run through criminal activity, that’s how it was operated. On a weekly basis if not a daily basis they talked about committing crimes, committing extortions, things of that nature.”

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