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Extortion and brute force: Ironworkers local chief Joseph Dougherty on trial

Federal prosecutors say the 73-year-old was the ringleader in attacks on non-union workers and work sites.

Jurors at the trial of former Ironworkers Union Local 401 member Joseph Dougherty heard testimony Wednesday about an attack on non-union workers at a King of Prussia building site in February last year.

Dougherty, 73, was indicted in February 2014. Eleven other ironworkers were also indicted and subsequently pleadedguilty to using threats, violence and sabotage to secure jobs for workers from the local. The former business manager of Ironworkers Local 401, Dougherty faces up to 130 years in prison on racketeering charges.

Prosecutors say Dougherty lead the campaign of extortion and violence, which included attacking the non-union laborers with baseball bats, sabotage of a Quaker construction site, and the takeover of a small residential development in University City.

Wearing a suit and yellow construction boots, Dougherty sat next to his defense attorney Fortunato Perri Jr. Dougherty’s face reddened and he shifted in his chair as a recording of his voice filled the courtroom: “If he puts it up I’ll tear it down. I’ll tear it down in broad f------ daylight,” referring to a non-union contractor’s project.

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That conversation, which took place in the summer of 2013, was recorded by a federal wiretap, which was ordered shortly after a Quaker construction site in Chestnut Hill was sabotaged, according to an FBI agent.

“We were working on the Quaker Meeting house arson and we believed [ironworker] Ed Sweeney was involved in that,” testified FBI Philadelphia Special Agent Jason Huff on Wednesday. Sweeney has pleaded guilty to racketeering charges.

The site of the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting house saw about $500,000 in damage after a December 2012 incident involving a crane being sabotaged, steel columns being partly cut and bolts being damaged, allegedly in retaliation for the site employing non-union laborers, prosecutors say.

“We were prepared for the possibility that there might be picketing,” said Meeting House member Dylan Steinberg, who was a clerk of a building committee at the time of the sabotage. “Given that it was a religious building, I don’t think think anyone thought anything more than pickets were likely.”

Insurance covered the costs of damages, Steinberg said, and the $5.8 million Meeting House, which contains a James Turrell Skyspace, was completed in August 2013.

Steinberg said many Meeting House members support organized labor.

“We decided to use a non-union contractor … primarily because of cost,” he said. “The Meeting as a whole very much supports the idea of organized labor.”

Non-union workers who were attacked with baseball bats by members of 401 Local while working on a Toys R Us in King of Prussia also testified Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors allege that Dougherty orchestrated the Ironworkers’ acts of intimidation and extortion at construction sites around Philadelphia.

But Dougherty claims the workers who pleaded guilty were acting on their own.

Testimony is expected to continue Thursday.

 
 
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