Feds charge Philadelphia Ironworkers with extortion, arson and racketeering

ironworkers local 401
“Topping out the Comcast building.” Credit: Local401.com

Federal prosecutors today announced an indictment charging 10 members of the Philadelphia Ironworkers Union Local 401 with extorting and forcing businesses to hire their colleagues and defending their turf from non-union workers with violence.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Zane Memeger announced the charges at a press conference this morning after the 10 union members named in the indictment were arrested.

According to the indictment, members of the Ironworkers would approach foremen at construction sites where iron work was being done and “implicitly or explicitly threaten the foreman with violence, destruction of property or other criminal acts if the contractor did not hire members of the Ironworkers Local 401.”

“The defendants and their associates relied heavily on its well-earned reputation for violence and sabotage, which had been built up in the community over many years to force contractors to hire members of the Ironworkers Local 401,” the indictment states.

Ironworkers Joseph Dougherty, 72, the financial secretary/business manager of Local 401, Edward Sweeney, 55, James Walsh, 49, and William Gillin, 42, all face up to 130 years in prison on charges of racketeering.

Francis Sean O’Donnell, 43, Christopher Prophet, 43, William O’Donnell, 61, and Richard Ritchie, 44, are also charged with racketeering and face up to 20 to 40 years in prison.

Daniel Hennigar, 53, and Greg Sullivan, 49, are charged with arson and face up to 40 years in prison.

FBI agents arrested all 10 suspects this morning.

All are accused of participating in campaigns of intimidation that allegedly included “assaulting non-union employees with baseball bats, slashing the tires of vehicles, smashing vehicles with crow bars, cutting and changing the locks on construction sites, filling the locks with superglue, damaging construction equipment, stealing construction materials, and otherwise sabotaging the construction site,” according to the indictment.

Prosecutors say that union members had special “goon squads” who would go out at night to damage construction sites. One of these squads was known as T.H.U.G.s, (The Helpful Union Guys).

Furthermore, the ironworkers whom contractors were forced to hire through extortion often did not work full days or at all, the indictment states.

The indictment further alleges that from May 2010 to October 2013, the ironworkers engaged in repeated acts of sabotage and extortion — at one point sabotaging the construction site of the Quaker meetinghouse in Chestnut Hill in December 2012.

“Union officials and members who commit arson, destroy property, use threats of physical harm and engage in other acts of violence to extort victims on behalf of their union need to be criminally prosecuted,” Memeger said in a statement.

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