Dougherty co-defendants in federal corruption case want separate trial, distance from Henon

John Dougherty and Bobby Henon
Photo credit KYW Newsradio, file

UPDATED: 4:20 p.m.


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A federal judge in Philadelphia heard arguments Wednesday on whether there should be two separate trials in the corruption case against Philadelphia Local 98 union leader John Dougherty and his seven co-defendants. 

The 116-count indictment charges there were two conspiracies: one to embezzle funds from electricians union Local 98, which Dougherty leads, and the other to bribe City Councilmember Bobby Henon. 

Prosecutors say it's all one case that should be tried at one time, because all the counts in the indictment involved the misuse of Local 98 funds.

Defense attorneys, however, argue that evidence from one alleged conspiracy could unfairly prejudice a jury against defendants from the other alleged conspiracy.

Dougherty was in court Wednesday, even though he has no stake in the outcome. He would be tried on all the counts, whether it was in one trial or two. A spokesman said Dougherty supports the defense motion to sever the cases because he believes it's the right thing to do.

Attorney Tom Bergstrom, who represents Local 98 President Brian Burrows, took the lead for the six co-defendants charged in the embezzlement conspiracy. They want a separate trial because they say the charges against Henon are much more damaging.

Bergstrom noted that Burrows is not charged with bribing Henon, so trying Burrows and Henon together is improper and potentially damaging to Burrows.

"What are we going to do, sit there for three weeks while they prove [the bribery charges>?" he said in an interview after the hearing. "All of that stuff is prejudicial. The jury shouldn't hear it — it's that simple."

Attorney William Brennan, who represents contractor Anthony Massa, said a specific charge could be considered prejudicial to Massa is tried with Henon. The charge states that Henon asked city inspectors to halt the installation of an MRI machine at Dougherty's request. 

"I don't need a jury sitting in judgement of Massa hearing allegations about beloved institutions," Brennan said.

Meanwhile, Henon's attorney Brian McMonagle argues that the counts against his client are few compared to the counts related to the alleged embezzlement. He says Henon should not have to "sit through a trial prejudiced by the other counts with evidence that would otherwise not be admissible."

McMonagle wants Henon to be tried only on the 20 charges that involve him, so he won't be tainted by the sheer weight of the embezzlement charges. 

Henon did not answer questions as he left the courthouse, but McMonagle said in a statement that the indictment “should have never been brought.”

“It certainly shouldn't have been joined,” he said, “and we're hopeful that all these counts are going to be severed and we'll have separate trials, and we look forward to defending at a separate trial."

The judge did not indicate when he would rule. He also has not yet ruled on an earlier motion by Dougherty and Henon to dismiss several of the charges.

All of the defendants have pleaded not guilty.