Report: Feds Have Joined the Johnny Doc Investigation

They're seeking tapes of the labor leader's fight with a non-union contractor.

Clockwise from left: John Dougherty, Kathleen Kane, Seth Williams, and Reid's Auto Service.

Clockwise from left: John Dougherty, Kathleen Kane, Seth Williams and Reid’s Auto Service.

Federal investigators have joined the inquiry into a fight involving powerful union leader John Dougherty, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The paper said James Reid, owner of Reid’s Auto Service, said he had been visited by FBI agents seeking a copy of his surveillance video showing some of the events surrounding the Jan. 21 confrontation involving Dougherty, the head of Philadelphia’s electricians union. Another resident of the block, James Daly, said he had also recently been visited by FBI agents.

FBI officials declined to comment, the paper said.

Dougherty was previously investigated by federal officials in 2006, though no charges resulted. This case, though, comes at a moment when the longtime union leader has consolidated his political power in the city and state — in recent months, his brother was elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and his favored candidate, Jim Kenney, became mayor of Philadelphia, all as he ascended to head of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council.

Interestingly, this recent case is already dragging in many of the same personalities and institutions that have been closely associated with the wide-ranging “Porngate” scandal that has consumed the state’s politics in recent years.

For example, there is the fact that District Attorney Seth Williams and Attorney General Kathleen Kane have both declined to get directly involved in the case — Williams citing a relationship with Dougherty while referring the investigation to Kane’s office, and Kane referring the case to career prosecutors in her department, citing a donation Dougherty’s union made to her campaign. (Kane, whose law license is suspended, would probably be barred from making prosecution decisions anyway.)

For Williams, though, his decision appears to be a departure from his past practice in dealing with politically sensitive investigations. WHYY’s Dave Davies noted that Williams, in particular, made a big deal last year about prosecuting state lawmakers with whom he’d had personal relationships.

“There are no free passes when it comes to corruption,” Williams said at the time. “I will not and cannot look the other way just because you are my friend or a member of my political party or my race.”

PhillyMag’s Holly Otterbein made a similar point Tuesday, noting Williams’ history of criticizing his predecessor, Lynne Abraham, for her regular recusals from cases involving potential political conflicts of interest. “As recently as 2014, Williams seemed to be referring to Abraham when he said his office would ‘no longer abdicate our responsibility to investigate’ political corruption cases,” Otterbein noted.

In the current case, a non-union contractor, Joshua Keesee, says Dougherty assaulted him and broke his nose; a Dougherty spokesman said the union leader was not the aggressor — and that Keesee threw the first punch after threatening Dougherty’s family.

Dougherty told that the incident happened after he asked Keesee to remove a union sticker from his truck. Keesee initially agreed, Dougherty said, but then hit one of the men scraping the sticker off the vehicle.

When he tried walking away, Dougherty said, Keesee began threatening his family — then came running at Dougherty himself.

“We literally squared up,” Dougherty told the website. “He threw a punch. I blocked it. I hit him twice. End of dispute after the second punch.”

Keesee, in an interview with the Inquirer, denied threatening Dougherty’s family. “Who in their right mind takes on John Dougherty?” Keesee told the paper.

The fight occurred Jan. 21. It was first reported Tuesday by the Inquirer, raising Dougherty’s ire. His spokesman, Frank Keel, suggested the paper’s reporting was motivated by Dougherty’s recent success in Pennsylvania Superior Court, which revived his lawsuit against lawyers who defended the Inquirer from a defamation lawsuit brought by Dougherty.

“Everything in that Inquirer story was wrong — and you can say that,” Dougherty told “I think it was the most disingenuous, irresponsible piece of writing I’ve seen to date — and I’ve sued people for less than that. It was just irresponsible, disingenuous.” As Otterbein noted Tuesday, the Inquirer‘s original story featured reporting and contributions from a “powerhouse” group of the paper’s top political and investigative reporters, including Craig McCoy, Mark Fazlollah, Dylan Purcell and Chris Brennan.

No word on when the investigation might be expected to wrap up.