Ex-Ironworkers Union Boss’s Extortion Defense: I Just Did What Other Philadelphia Construction Union Chieftains Do

Both the prosecution and the defense in the ongoing extortion trial of Joseph Dougherty, the former union boss of Philadelphia Ironworkers Local 401, agree that, over the years, a band of Local 401 officers and rank-and-file militants routinely terrorized construction workers and contractors who got in their way.

Yesterday two victims of Local 401 thuggery testified at the trial about what happened to them.  Reporter Tony Hanson provided this summary for the CBS radio affiliate in Philadelphia (for the entire story, see the first link below):

Victim Luis Enrique Farias testified that he and his foreman, Christopher Mengel, and other workers, were waiting for a police escort to get past union picketers when a car pulled up and three men with baseball bats started smashing vehicles — and then heads.

“That’s when Chris came out of his truck and said ‘hey, this isn’t necessary,’ and then the guy socked him in the face,” Farias said. “And then I started fighting with him again and I had him in a headlock, and all I heard was, excuse me, all I heard was ‘get that fat (expletive).’ That’s when I started feeling someone hitting me in the back with a baseball bat.”

Farias, who was hospitalized as a result, said after the attack, he left the Philadelphia-area because he didn’t feel safe.

Mengel’s testimony about what happened was the same.

“They started smashing lights and windows on the trucks,” Mengel told the court. “One guy hit me in the head with a baseball bat.”

Defense attorney Fortunato Perri is trying to claim that, somehow, Dougherty isn’t responsible for what his paid subordinates and militant followers did, but this is definitely an uphill battle in light of the evidence investigators were able to uncover after securing a warrant to tap the union “business manager’s” phone calls:

The defense denies Dougherty ordered the beatings, arsons and other damage to property. But to bolster his case, federal prosecutor Rob Livermore played a secretly recorded conversation for jurors in which Dougherty allegedly plotted action against a non-union job site in Center City.

“If he puts it up and gets away with it, we’re tearing it the (expletive) down in broad daylight, broad (expletive) daylight,” Dougherty is heard saying. “I’ll rent the (expletive) crane from work reservations. We are not losing in Center City.”

As an alternative defense, Perri is also suggesting to jurors that it would be wrong for them to find Dougherty guilty so that the judge can send him to prison for what will probably be the rest of his life, because so many construction union bosses in Philadelphia and around the country have done the same thing:

“. . . Philadelphia, for decades and decades and decades, this town has been a strong and proud union town,” defense lawyer Fortunato Perri Jr. told the jurors.  (See the second link below for more information.)

Of course, if jurors don’t buy any of his lawyer’s excuses, and find Dougherty guilty, his legal team could file an appeal based on the claim that any extortionate sabotage and violence he orchestrated was protected under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Enmons decision, which shields otherwise criminal acts from Hobbs Act prosecutions if they are committed to advance so-called “legitimate union objectives.”

This year, the National Right to Work Committee will be pushing for recorded congressional votes on legislation to overturn Enmons, but for now, this 42-year-old controversial ruling remains the law of the land.

As his extortion trial unfolds, ex-ironworkers union boss Joe Dougherty is being confronted with evidence such as a wiretapped phone call in which he is heard threatening to tear down a job site “in broad daylight, broad [expletive] daylight” if a union-free company gets the bid. But Boss Dougherty’s lawyer is telling jurors they shouldn’t hold him responsible for numerous crimes of sabotage, arson and assault carried out by his minions, because “Philadelphia, for decades and decades and decades, this town has been a strong and proud union town . . . .” Image: Charles Fox/Philadelphia Inquirer

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