Jeremy Roebuck and Joseph A. Slobodzian, Inquirer Staff Writers
Last updated: Tuesday, January 20, 2015, 4:41 PM
Posted: Tuesday, January 20, 2015, 11:33 AM
Joseph Dougherty, for 16 years the undisputed boss of the region’s union ironworkers and unapologetic enemy of nonunion labor, was found guilty Tuesday of using arson, intimidation and violence against nonunion contractors.
The jurors spent five days deliberating after a brief defense case, closing arguments from lawyers and legal instruction by U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson.
Baylson set sentencing for April 29. Prosecutors say Dougherty faces a mandatory minimum 15 years in prison if convicted on the charges.
Dougherty, who elected not to testify in his defense, was charged with racketeering conspiracy; two arson-related counts for damage to a nonunion site at 4900 Grays Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia on July 18, 2013; two arson related counts for the Oct. 12, 2013 attempted attack on a nonunion site in Malvern; and a count of extortion for allegedly coercing a nonunion steel company to hire union ironworkers to erect a small apartment building at 31st and Spring Garden Streets in West Philadelphia.
Baylson, however, granted a defense motion dismissing arson counts involving the Dec. 20, 2012, attack on the Quaker meeting house under construction at 20 E. Mermaid Lane in Chestnut Hill, ruling that there was not enough evidence linking the incident to Dougherty.
Prosecution and defense lawyers focused on different facets of the veteran union leader, Dougherty, 73, known as “Joe Doc” among Local 401’s 700 members.
To Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Livermore, Dougherty was an angry, vindictive union field marshal, directing his ironworkers in guerrilla attacks against nonunion contractors working in Philadelphia and the suburbs.
In his closing argument to the jury, Livermore said there was no doubt Dougherty improved the lives of his union members and won their loyalty.
But he added that Dougherty’s voice on FBI wiretaps also made it clear that he believed in using “any means necessary” – arson, intimidation and extortion – to force nonunion builders to hire union ironworkers or leave the market.
“He calls them pigs and he treats them worse than any pig should be treated,” Livermore said, adding that Dougherty “created a culture within the union where these acts were not only tolerated, but they were rewarded.”
To defense attorney Fortunato N. Perri Jr., Dougherty was a rough-hewn, tough-talking union boss who refused to disguise his hatred for nonunion contractors who he believed were destroying his union’s hard-won wages and benefits.
Perri urged the jury not to be swayed by the expletive-filled FBI wiretaps of calls between Dougherty and his four union business agents, which Perri called “the rantings of an aging man.”
“Sometimes you have to say things to make yourself sound like a bad guy, like a tough guy,” Perri said, adding: “He can’t look weak, he’s beholden to the same membership that they are.”
But Perri insisted that Dougherty did not direct his members to attack and vandalize nonunion sites and said he was fingered by those who were caught and tried to reduce decades-long prison terms in guilty-plea deals with federal prosecutors to testify against Dougherty.
The federal jury trial, which began Jan. 5, had taken its toll on the aging business manager, who has had a stroke and heart attack.
On Tuesday, just after the jury began deliberations, Dougherty complained of breathing problems and was taken by ambulance to Pennsylvania Hospital for evaluation. He was back in court Wednesday but seemed sedated and unsteady on his feet.
A total of 11 union members were indicted last year with Dougherty in the case. All but the boss pleaded guilty.
The 25 acts of violence, arson and extortion charged in the indictment played out between 2008 and 2014, a period when construction work had evaporated because of the national economic recession.
Prosecutors said Dougherty stepped up his longtime practice of attacking nonunion contractors to ensure that Local 401 members got whatever steel work was available.
The defense argued that the violence and vandalism was the work of four recently elected business agents – two of whom testified against Dougherty under plea bargains – desperate to preserve their lucrative posts in the face of increasingly angry, frustrated and unemployed members of Local 401.
Compounding the situation, argued Perri to the jury, were Dougherty’s age and health problems, which encouraged intra-union plotting by business agents thinking of running against him.
Still, Dougherty’s defense presented testimonials from 24 union members about “Joe Doc’s” generosity and leadership. Even the seven Local 401 officials and members who testified against Dougherty acknowledged how he had helped them and their families.
The federal case against the union ironworkers was arguably the most significant against a construction labor union since the 1980s, when federal prosecutors in Philadelphia brought a major racketeering case against members of Roofers Local 30-30B. The Roofers trial brought down 13 union leaders, three reputed mobsters, two lawyers, a judge, and a police officer on accusations of extortion, intimidation, and political bribery.
The case also resulted in the Roofers Union being placed under a court-ordered emergency trusteeship that last for years.