10 Ironworkers arrested, accused of violence against nonunion work sites

Posted: February 20, 2014

THEIR TARGETS of violence, according to a federal indictment unsealed yesterday, included a Quaker meetinghouse site and workers building a kids' toy store.

Yes, those peaceful Quakers. Yes, a kids' store.

Ten members of Ironworkers Local Union 401, including its leaders, were arrested yesterday and charged with conspiring to commit acts of violence to force contractors to hire union members.

The alleged crimes include a 2012 arson at the site for a new Chestnut Hill Friends meetinghouse and a 2010 baseball-bat whacking that seriously injured nonunion workers at a Toys R Us under construction near the King of Prussia Mall.

U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger told reporters that "the defendants used goon squads, which included union members and associates, who committed assaults, arsons and other violent and destructive acts to make their point emphatically clear."

"One such squad," he said, "referred to itself as T.H.U.G. - The Helpful Union Guys."

The arrests yesterday included the head of the union, Joseph Dougherty, 72, of Bustleton, the union's business manager.

"I think he was shocked," his attorney, Joel Trigiani, said when asked about Dougherty's reaction to being arrested.

The feds contend that Dougherty "authorized, supervised and controlled the criminal activity."

The union's four business agents also were arrested: Edward Sweeney, 55, of Northeast Philadelphia; Francis Sean O'Donnell, 43, of Warminster; Christopher Prophet, 43, of Richboro; and William O'Donnell, 61, of Cherry Hill.

Reached by phone at his home last night, Sweeney said: "Everything's turned around." He didn't elaborate. Asked if the allegations were true, he said, "They're mostly false." He said the ironworkers did not commit the arson at the Quaker site.

Also arrested were union members James Walsh, 49; William Gillin, 42; Richard Ritchie, 44; Daniel Hennigar, 53; and Greg Sullivan, 49, all of Philadelphia.

Walsh allegedly was the union's "hit man," the indictment said. He allegedly "committed several of the arsons, destruction of property, assault, and other criminal acts," including the arson at the Quaker site.

Philadelphia FBI Special Agent in Charge Edward J. Hanko likened the defendants to the mob, saying the alleged crimes "are more reminiscent of indictments in organized-crime investigations than they are of investigations of trade unions."

Memeger noted that this type of alleged violence "was traditionally happening back in the '40s and '50s, and it's unfortunately happening today in Philadelphia." Even when contractors hired members of the ironworkers union, some members did not work, but just collected a paycheck, Memeger said.

Early yesterday, more than 100 agents from the FBI, the Department of Labor and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives executed arrest, search and seizure warrants, Hanko said.

According to the indictment:

* Between May and June 2010, Prophet organized the picketing of a construction site for a Toys R Us store near the King of Prussia Mall. Union members then "sabotaged the construction site." Three union members and associates, including Ritchie, "later assaulted some of the nonunion workers with baseball bats, resulting in serious injury."

* In December 2012, Sweeney and other members approached a nonunion contractor building a new Quaker meetinghouse on Mermaid Lane in Chestnut Hill.

When the contractor refused Sweeney's requests to hire union ironworkers, Walsh and Gillin "set a crane on fire, used a torch to cut some of the steel beams and bolts supporting the new structure, and caused approximately $500,000 in damage to the property."

On Twitter: @julieshawphilly

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