N.J. contractor pleads guilty to union bribes linked to Local 98 probe

Unmarked boxes taken from John 'Johnny Doc' Dougherty's home during a raid in 2016. (Bobby Allyn/WHYY)

Unmarked boxes taken from John 'Johnny Doc' Dougherty's home during a raid in 2016. (Bobby Allyn/WHYY)

A New Jersey electrician has pleaded guilty to criminal charges linked to a years-long federal probe into the operations of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Philadelphia and the union’s politically powerful head, John Dougherty.

George Peltz, 67, a childhood friend of Dougherty’s and owner of the Berlin, N.J.-based MJK Electric, agreed to plead guilty to four criminal counts, including tax evasion, theft of union funds, and unlawful payments to a union official – described only as Local 98 “Official 1.”

Peltz admitted skimming money from his employees and concealing invoices in order to build a clandestine fund, totaling in excess of $1 million, which he spent lavishly on himself and the unnamed union officer.

In documents unsealed Monday, Peltz, who lives in Ocean City, admitted providing gifts and services, such as security improvements to the union official’s home and business, totaling some $56,000. Further, Peltz acknowledged giving the union official a $4,500 gift card to the Rittenhouse Square men’s clothing store, Boyds, according to the plea document filed in federal court on Monday.

The plea agreement is described by the federal government as a “non-cooperating agreement,” indicating that Peltz had not negotiated a deal with investigators in exchange for leniency.

Peltz faces a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment and a $1 million fine, along with other penalties at his sentencing May 21.

“Mr. Peltz has accepted responsibility for his actions,” his attorney, Barry Gross said in a phone interview. “He’s going to make restitution and is looking forward to moving on with his life.”

Peltz was released on bail and forfeited his passport to federal officials.

Two federal law enforcement sources who were not authorized to speak on the record confirmed to WHYY that other major indictments connected to a long-running investigation into the labor union are expected soon, possibly this week.

Speculation about the investigation has been rampant among Philadelphia’s political circles since a series of coordinated raids in 2016 targeted Peltz, Dougherty, and Local 98-affiliate and City Councilman Bobby Henon.

Dougherty and Henon have maintained their innocence; they did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, a political ally of Dougherty’s whose mayoral campaign was heavily backed by the union, has shelled out tens of thousands of dollars in the wake of the investigation. These payments include $5,000 in unspecified “legal services” to a former federal prosecutor who now operates a legal defense firm in New Jersey, according to campaign finance filings. Kenney has denied any knowledge of wrongdoing.

A Kenney representative did not immediately return a call for comment.

These recent charges echo past legal trouble involving Dougherty’s associates. In 2008, another electrician, Donald Dougherty, pleaded guilty to skimming a half million dollars in union funds and conducting $115,000 in free renovations to Dougherty’s South Philadelphia home.

Don Dougherty, who is not related to John Dougherty, served a two-year prison sentence.

Disclosure: The Electricians Union Local 98 represents engineers at WHYY.

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