Defense pushes back on towing, wiretap recordings in trial of John Dougherty and Bobby Henon

(C) STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photograp Philadelphia City Councilperson Bobby Henon leaves the Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia after jury selection in his bribery trial earlier this month.

(C) TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer Union leader John Dougherty talks to reporter last week outside IBEW Local 98 headquarters.

Henon’s former staffer testifies about expanding towing legislation to avoid optics of retribution // Timestamp 10/19/21 1:29pm

A former staffer for Councilmember Bobby Henon told jurors Tuesday that while the office was drafting a Council resolution to investigate George Smith Towing — the company that charged Henon more than £200 to reclaim his Ford Escape in 2015 — the staffer suggested “expanding the scope” of the public hearings on predatory towing practices as to not make his boss look as though he was seeking personal retribution. 

(C) JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photograp Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Costello walks in court for the case against IBEW Johnny Dougherty and Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon. .

“We had heard plenty of feedback that towers across the city were acting not in a good light,” said Tom Holroyd, who worked on Henon’s legislation from 2015 through 2018. “I expressed that using hearings to go after one tower, which the Councilman had had a negative experience with, would make him appear vindictive.”

But, Holroyd said he was told by Henon’s chief-of-staff Courtney Voss, it wasn’t just the Councilmember who had a negative experience with George Smith Towing. “John Dougherty [did] as well,” he said. 

(C) JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photograp John Dougherty arrives at federal court in Philadelphia last week for his bribery trial. .

The push for Council hearings came days after Dougherty phoned Henon in a huff the night a tow truck driver tried to haul the labor leader’s double-parked car from a Pennsport Mall lot, emails and calls played in court showed.

Over the phone that night, the two discussed plans to ensnare the tower in investigations and legal fees. 

Load Error A week later, Voss sent Holroyd an email displayed in court instructing Holroyd to take a photo of any sign that might say “cash only” at the towing lot, and to draft a resolution calling for Council hearings. “Make sure you include language in it that enables us to subpoena witnesses,” Voss’ email instructed Holroyd. “Is it fair to say that grabs more attention, maybe?” Assistant U.S.

Attorney Bea Witzleben asked the former staffer.  “Yes,” Holroyd said. Later that day, the staffer said he ventured to the towing lot with his phone recording video in his shirt pocket, attempting to covertly capture any misdeeds.

He said he witnessed people being told to use the ATM on site because the company’s credit and debit machines were down, but with the video obscured by his pocket, he deleted the clip. Holroyd then drafted the legislation, asked an office intern to help with proofreading, and shipped it off. He said he inquired about its status later, but said he never saw the resolution introduced.  Earlier Tuesday, both Henon and Dougherty’s attorneys noted that the legislation was never introduced in Council or mentioned again.

The court broke for lunch as prosecutors’ questioning of Holroyd was ongoing. When testimony resumes, jurors will hear more from the former Council staffer and defense will get an opportunity to cross-examine him.  WHY IT MATTERS: Prosecutors have alleged Henon drafted the towing legislation at Dougherty’s behest in exchange for a more than £70,000 yearly salary from Local 98.

— Oona Goodin-Smith Dougherty’s interest in soda tax bill was only natural, defense contends // Timestamp 10/19/21 12:08pm

Lawyers for John Dougherty and Bobby Henon on Tuesday cross-examined FBI Special Agent Jason Blake about several wiretap recordings played in court Monday, including calls about the soda tax. Jurors heard a series of phone calls between Dougherty, Henon, Mayor Jim Kenney, and others working to help pass Kenney’s signature soda tax legislation in 2016. In cross examination, Hockeimer stressed that while the soda tax bill might not directly have affected Dougherty’s electricians union, he still had an interest in seeing Kenney succeed, given he and the union had helped get the mayor elected.

Dougherty’s involvement behind the scenes was only natural, Hockeimer noted, because he served as an intermediary between the Kenney administration and the labor community, which was divided over whether to support the bill. — Jeremy Roebuck Towing resolution never made it beyond drafting stage

// Timestamp 10/19/21 12:01pm On Tuesday morning, lawyers for John Dougherty and Bobby Henon cross-examined FBI Special Agent Jason Blake about wiretap recordings played Monday, including those regarding towing. A tow truck driver tried to haul Dougherty’s double-parked car away from the Pennsport Mall in 2015. In calls played Monday, Dougherty called Henon and the two discussed burying the towing company — George Smith Towing — in legislation and Council investigations.

In the following days, Henon had his staff investigate the company and even draft a Council resolution calling for hearings about its conduct. “I just feel like f—g with someone,” Henon’s chief-of-staff Courtney Voss wrote in an email showed to jurors Tuesday. Henon responded: “I’m in that kind of mood, too.”

But both Henon’s lawyer, Brian McMonagle, and Dougherty’s, Henry E. Hockeimer Jr., noted on cross-examination that that resolution was never introduced and never made it beyond the drafting stage — and Dougherty never mentioned the issue again. “Is it fair to say, he can be focused and angry about an issue and then move on — just sort of go to the next topic,” Hockeimer asked Blake. “After that night they don’t talk about [the towing issue] again, do they?”

What’s more, they maintained Henon had his own complaints about predatory practices of the towing industry — and had even had his car towed by George Smith Towing just months before Dougherty’s run-in with the tow truck driver. They sought to frame the hearings Henon was preparing to hold on whether George Smith had broken city laws which require towing firms to accept credit cards as well as cash payments. — Jeremy Roebuck

Defense disputes topic of wiretapped call about Henon’s accountability // Timestamp 10/19/21 11:54am Lawyers for John Dougherty and Bobby Henon had their chance Tuesday morning to cross-examine FBI Special Agent Jason Blake about several wiretap recordings played in court Monday, including efforts to hold Henon accountable.

Among the calls played for jurors Monday was one in which Dougherty, clearly upset with Henon, urged Local 98?s political director, Marita Crawford, to have a conversation with the councilmember about being more accountable. Prosecutors framed the calls as an indication that Dougherty expected Henon to do things for him and Local 98 because of the more than £70,000-a-year salary the union was paying him. But on cross examination, Dougherty defense lawyer Henry E.

Hockeimer Jr. suggested Tuesday the conversation was about something else entirely. In the weeks preceding the call, Dougherty and other union officials had chided Henon about not filing receipts to explain charges to his union-issued credit card. The problem continued to be an issue for the councilmember, Hockeimer said, and sometime after the phone call between Dougherty and Crawford the union cancelled Henon’s credit card.

“The f—g thing we ask [him] to do, [he] don’t do,” Dougherty said of Henon on the call played in court Monday. — Jeremy Roebuck FBI agent will to take the stand again to talk wiretaps

// Timestamp 10/19/21 9:55am The jury is in the box, the judge is on the bench, and we’re back for a tenth day in the federal bribery trial of labor leader John Dougherty and Councilmember Bobby Henon. We’re picking up where we left off yesterday, with prosecutors questioning FBI Special Agent Jason Blake about wiretapped calls and emails from September 2015, surrounding allegations that Henon had his staff draft a resolution calling for public hearings to investigate a tow-truck company after it tried to haul away Dougherty’s car.

— Oona Goodin-Smith Dougherty often told Henon what to do. But was it a friend’s advice or demands from a boss?

// Timestamp 10/19/21 7:20am After a tow-truck driver tried to haul John Dougherty’s double-parked car from the Pennsport Mall in 2015, the labor leader didn’t want a refund. He wanted political payback.

“Bobby Henon’s going to put a bill in tomorrow,” he told an associate, vowing that his closest ally on City Council would mire the towing company in red tape and onerous legislation before he’d even discussed the idea with the councilmember. When he did, five minutes later, his instructions to Henon were direct: “F — them to death.” Prosecutors played recordings of those September 2015 calls from Dougherty in court Monday as they opened the third week of their federal bribery case against the labor leader and the city councilmember they’ve portrayed as his puppet.

While prosecutors spent the day playing more wiretaps of Dougherty making all manner of requests of his favorite councilmember, the line between presumptuous political favors sought by a friend and corrupt orders from a boss who had purchased such consideration with bribes wasn’t always so clear. None of the calls played at trial so far explicitly link Henon’s union salary to the requests Dougherty made.

Friend or boss? Dougherty often told Henon what to do.

But was it advice or a demand?

— Jeremy Roebuck and Oona Goodin-Smith What to know about the case as Dougherty-Henon trial enters 10th day // Timestamp 10/19/21 7:15am

Federal prosecutors charged Dougherty, Henon, and six other Local 98 officials and allies in a 116-count indictment alleging bribery, embezzlement and a host of other crimes in January 2019. But last year, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L.

Schmehl granted a defense request to split that case into two trials. The first, which began last week, is focused solely on charges tied to the relationship between Dougherty and Henon. Each man faces 13 counts including conspiracy and honest services fraud.

Henon faces an additional seven counts of honest services fraud and bribery. In essence, the government is arguing that Dougherty bought himself a City Councilmember by continuing to pay Henon for a no-show, no-responsibility job with Local 98, even after he was in elected office. In exchange, prosecutors say, Henon allowed Dougherty to control his vote and the powers of his office on issues that mattered to Dougherty.

Both men have denied the charges. Their lawyers describe the case as a “feeble attempt at criminalizing the legislative process.” They argue that what the government describes as a criminal conspiracy is nothing more than the “normal and lawful lobbying of a City Councilmember” and that Henon was acting in order to advance the interests of his constituents. Get up to speed on the case here:

— Staff reports Who are John Dougherty and Bobby Henon? // Timestamp 10/19/21 7:00am

John Dougherty — known widely as “Johnny Doc” — is the longtime business manager of the politically influential Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and head of the Building and Construction Trades Council. He’s a kingmaker of Philadelphia City Hall, and a Pennsylvania political heavyweight. In his nearly three decades leading Local 98, Dougherty, 61, has transformed the 4,700-member organization into a political powerhouse and the largest independent source of campaign money in the state. Union fund-raising and manpower have helped elect mayors — including Jim Kenney — as well as City Council members, county commissioners, members of Congress, state legislators, governors and more than 60 judges, including the union leader’s brother, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty.

He’s been an outspoken champion for organized labor in Philadelphia. His union is known for pitching inflatable rats at non-union picket lines and parking its “Rat-mobile” at worksites during labor disputes. But he’s also found himself in the government’s crosshairs several times over the years — a state grand jury investigation, probes by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, a 2006 investigation by the FBI — only to emerge unscathed.

Bobby Henon, 52, a three-term incumbent on City Council and its former majority leader, represents his native Northeast Philadelphia. A former electrician who served as political director of Local 98 for more than a decade, he was elected to Council in 2011 on a wave of union money and support. Since then, the councilmember has also remained on the union’s payroll — earning a more than £70,000-per-year salary — in an untitled position reporting directly to Dougherty, while also collecting his £140,000 annual paycheck from City Hall.

— Oona Goodin-Smith and Jeremy Roebuck

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