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Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice in courtroom for brother’s federal sentencing for theft, bribery

READING, Pa. (AP) — A former Philadelphia labor leader who wielded significant clout in Pennsylvania politics was being sentenced on Thursday for bribing a City Council member and stealing nearly $600,000 from the union he ran for nearly three decades.

John Dougherty, 64, was convicted in December of embezzlement, conspiracy and dozens of other counts in a 2019 indictment, which accused him of using the politically powerful electricians’ union as his “personal bank account” and a source of jobs for family and friends. In 2021, a separate jury convicted Dougherty of bribing a City Council member to do the union’s bidding.

“Dougherty’s crimes have inflicted immeasurable harm upon Local 98 and the City of Philadelphia,” federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo that accounted for Dougherty’s convictions in both trials.

But Dougherty still has influential backers. His brother — Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty — was in the packed courtroom gallery Thursday as supporters took the stand and testified about the defendant’s charitable works, his staunch union advocacy and his devotion to family.

Dougherty received more than 200 letters of support from political and civic figures, including one from former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell — who served two terms as Philadelphia’s mayor — and another from Sister Mary Scullion, a much-admired homeless advocate in the city.

Prosecutors argued for a lengthy prison term, saying Dougherty systematically ripped off the electricians’ union and deprived the citizens of Philadelphia of the right to honest service from the elected official he bribed. Dougherty was so powerful that no one in his orbit questioned his conduct, and he threatened retaliation against anyone perceived as disloyal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Costello said in court Thursday.

“The defendant has shown little if any remorse or responsibility,” Costello said.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl was expected to hand down the sentence in federal court in Reading later Thursday.

Known as “Johnny Doc,” Dougherty was a longtime power broker in Democratic politics, steering tens of millions in union campaign contributions to candidates for office, including his brother, who was elected to the state’s high court in 2015.

Federal prosecutors said Dougherty also used the union’s money to buy groceries, restaurant meals, tickets to concerts and sporting events, and other personal items. He paid contractors with union funds for work on his house, his relatives’ houses and a neighborhood bar he owned, and arranged for friends and family members to be on the union payroll, according to the indictment.

A co-defendant in last year’s trial, former union president Brian Burrows, was sentenced last month to four years in prison.

Dougherty also was convicted of bribing Philadelphia council member Bobby Henon. Prosecutors said Dougherty gave Henon a no-show union job. Henon subsequently held up a lucrative cable contract for Comcast Corp. — forcing Comcast to steer electrical work to Dougherty’s friend — and took other official actions under Dougherty’s sway. Henon was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.

“Henon did whatever Dougherty wanted. He got what he paid for,” said Costello, the prosecutor.

A third criminal case against Dougherty, involving extortion charges, ended in a hung jury in April.

Prosecutors were seeking a prison sentence of up to 14 years for Dougherty. They also asked for $2.1 million in restitution to Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, where Dougherty served as business manager from 1993 until his 2021 resignation.

Dougherty’s lawyers argued for a reduced sentence. They acknowledged the labor boss had abused his position of trust in the 5,000-member local, but said he performed “tremendous and tireless work” on behalf of organized labor. The defense also said Dougherty provides daily care for his gravely ill wife.

“I know my dad is far from perfect. I understand and believe in the idea of accountability,” his daughter, Erin Dougherty, said on the witness stand. But she begged the judge to sentence her father to home confinement so he can continue to tend to her mother.

Michael Rubinkam, The Associated Press