Union leader's friend to stand trial

Posted: April 16, 2008

A Philadelphia electrical contractor pleaded guilty yesterday to 98 federal criminal charges, but not to two counts alleging he made illegal payments to union leader and state Senate candidate John J. Dougherty.

Donald "Gus" Dougherty Jr., 42, the president of Dougherty Electric Inc. in South Philadelphia, intends to stand trial on those counts, starting May 19, in U.S. District Court.

And he may want John Dougherty, a friend from childhood, who leads the local electricians union, to testify as a defense witness.

Gus Dougherty's defense attorneys, Eric W. Sitarchuk and Nathan J. Andrisani, said in court papers that they might ask U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno to give immunity to the labor leader, who is under investigation but has not been charged.

Sitarchuk and Andrisani said in the document, which was filed last month, that "the government continues to hold the threat of such charges over the head of John Dougherty," effectively denying Gus Dougherty a witness whose testimony might help him defend against the remaining two charges.

Yesterday, Sitarchuk said he expects the labor leader to appear as a witness. "I would fully expect that he would testify without immunity," he said in a telephone interview.

It is not unusual for someone under investigation to be reluctant to testify, and defense lawyers routinely advise such people - even if they are innocent - to assert their Fifth Amendment rights as a precaution, rather than risk the possibility of that testimony's being used against them.

A grant of immunity would resolve such fears because the testimony could not be used in a subsequent prosecution.

John Dougherty is being investigated by the FBI for potential labor and tax violations, sources said. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The Gus Dougherty case is being closely watched in legal and political circles because John Dougherty is in a three-way race for the seat now held by State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, who is awaiting trial on corruption charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anita Eve and Paul L. Gray declined to comment on the prospect of John Dougherty's appearing as a defense witness for Gus Dougherty. John Dougherty's attorney, Henry E. Hockeimer Jr., declined to comment.

The two Doughertys are not related, but have been friends since they were young. Both grew up in South Philadelphia.

In court yesterday, Gus Dougherty pleaded guilty to tax evasion, filing false tax returns, operating an illegal cash payroll, stealing from a union benefits plan, and bribing a bank official who approved more than $5.3 million in loans at a time when Gus Dougherty had a low credit score. He also admitted including a relative of a union official in his employee health plan.

Eve said that Dougherty faces a prison sentence of four to five years under federal sentencing guidelines as a result of the guilty plea.

He is now slated for trial on charges of making two illegal payments to John Dougherty: the sale of a Shore house for $24,000 less than market value, and the performance of $115,000 worth of electrical work on his Philadelphia home.

Gus Dougherty did not bill John Dougherty for the work until after he learned that he was under federal investigation.

It is a violation of the federal Taft-Hartley Act for a contractor to give anything of value to an officer or employee of a labor organization that represents a contractor's employees. Fair-market-value transactions, however, are permitted.

John Dougherty has said that he is "very comfortable with all the transactions."

In court documents yesterday, Eve and Gray said that Gus Dougherty's lawyers should not be permitted to argue that the prosecution is only an attempt to "squeeze" the union official.

In addition, they said, any argument that "payments or value given to the union official was done out of the defendant's long-standing friendship with the union official . . . would be improper."

Contact staff writer Emilie Lounsberry at 215-854-4828 or elounsberry@phillynews.com.

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