Johnny Dougherty allegedly bribed Philly councilmember with $19,000 in game tickets

Dougherty’s union, Local 98, spent thousands to send Councilmember Bobby Henon to big games. Prosecutors allege the gifted tickets were bribes.

John Dougherty walks to the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021

John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty walks to the federal courthouse in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Updated at 8:20 p.m.

More than $19,000 worth of tickets to Eagles, Phillies, NCAA basketball and college lacrosse games were among the inducements that union leader Johnny “Doc” Dougherty allegedly gave Philadelphia Councilmember Bobby Henon to do his bidding in City Hall.

Prosecutors in the federal corruption trial of the two men laid out a detailed accounting Thursday of the tickets Dougherty and his union, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, provided to Henon in 2015 and 2016. Henon is an employee of Local 98 in addition to serving on council.

In some cases, the tickets were for Henon’s personal use, as when he asked Dougherty for five tickets worth $363 for lacrosse at Lincoln Financial Field in May 2015. In March 2016 Henon received four box tickets for a basketball game for himself, his son, and two friends, which the FBI calculated were worth $800.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

On other occasions, various local politicians working on issues of importance to Dougherty attended the games along with their spouses and guests, FBI Special Agent Jason Blake testified.

For example, in December 2015, Dougherty was threatening to use his influence over councilmembers to hold up the renewal of Comcast’s cable franchise in Philadelphia, unless the company agreed to hire more unionized electrical contractors.

On the day of a crucial council committee vote, the union boss spoke with Henon about the elected officials who would attend an upcoming Eagles-Buffalo Bills game at Local 98’s expense.

“So you got Buffalo next week, the whole box,” Dougherty told Henon on a wiretapped phone call. “You got 24 tickets to yourself. I might pull two for [Mayor] Jimmy [Kenney].”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Dougherty advised Henon to invite councilmembers Cindy Bass and Curtis Jones, and councilmember-elect Helen Gym. In subsequent calls Dougherty and Henon said former mayor John Street asked for eight tickets, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson wanted four, and a member of Council President Darrell Clarke’s staff asked for two.

Local 98 ended up paying for 22 tickets for the group at an estimated cost of $14,788 and for $1,219 worth of food, Blake testified.

Henon and his guests also attended an Eagles-Dolphins game in November 2015, an NCAA basketball game in January 2016, and a Reds-Phillies game in May 2016 at the union’s expense.

Defense attorneys for Henon and Dougherty pushed back against the prosecution’s claim that the tickets were improper gifts or bribes.

While the discussion of the Bills tickets coincided with the council hearing on the Comcast agreement, Dougherty’s attorney Henry Hockeimer pointed out that the two men never mentioned Comcast in the recorded phone call or tied the ticket purchases to the council debate. He also noted that many of the tickets were used by other people.

“So Mr. Henon didn’t get 22 tickets,” Hockeimer said to Blake.

“From the call, they were his to distribute to whoever he chose,” the FBI agent responded.

Hockeimer emphasized that Local 98 buys “lots of tickets,” routinely purchasing seats for politicians and its own staff members to attend many different professional and college sports events in the Philadelphia area.

“This is a way for Local 98 to increase its visibility within the Philadelphia community, right?” Hockeimer asked. “It’s for marketing…to keep Local 98 out there.”

Several months after the Eagles-Bills game, the question of whether the tickets constituted gifts came up in a conversation between Henon and Gym. In a wiretapped call from March 2016, after Gym took office, she reminded Henon about the game and said she was not sure whether was required to disclose it as a gift on her legally mandated statement of financial interests.

“I didn’t know how you were reporting it, or how I should report it,” she said.

“The Eagles game, oh god,” Henon said.

“[Are] the [mayor] and Kenyatta [Johnson] reporting it?” she asked.

“They’re not reporting it,” Henon answered. “I don’t think they’ve ever reported it.”

Henon went on to say that the ticket would need to be reported if it were a gift from a lobbyist. He told Gym he was not reporting any gifts that year and said Local 98 did not keep a log of who sat in its box at the stadium.

When Gym asked if she should worry that she was tagged in a social media post from the game, Henon assured her, “There is no trail of anything.”

Henon’s comments to Gym were “bad advice,” his attorney Brian McMonagle said in court today. “If she didn’t report [the ticket] on the [disclosure] form, that would be an ethics violation, correct?”

“I believe so,” Blake said.

Gym felt uncomfortable after the conversation, consulted with an attorney, and in 2018 prepared an amended statement of financial interests to include the ticket, her spokesman Eric Schulz said Thursday evening. She recently realized the amended statement was never posted on the city’s financial disclosure page and has resubmitted it, he added.

In addition to the tickets, prosecutors allege Dougherty bribed Henon with a $70,000 salary for a no-show job at Local 98. McMonagle argued that Henon earned his pay in 2015 and 2016 by performing work, including attending campaign events of Local 98-endorsed political candidates and attending monthly meetings of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO, an umbrella group of more than 100 local labor unions.

The prosecutors for the federal government finished presenting evidence and calling witnesses Thursday and the defense attorneys are expected to begin presenting their case when the trial resumes on Monday.

Now in its fourth week, the trial is taking place two years after prosecutors brought a sprawling 116-count indictment against Henon, Dougherty, and several people with ties to Local 98. The charges have been split into two trials, with the current case focusing on the bribery charges against Henon and Dougherty. It is expected to last another one or two weeks.

Disclosure: The Electricians Union Local 98 represents engineers, camera personnel, editors, audio and maintenance techs at WHYY.

Subscribe to PlanPhilly

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal