- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Intimidation, assaults and property damage, including setting a crane on fire, were part of an alleged campaign by a Philadelphia-area ironworkers union to coerce building contractors into hiring them over non-union competition, federal prosecutors said Tuesday as they arrested 10 of the union’s business officials and members.

The federal charges against the men include racketeering and arson, and targeted properties included a Toys R Us store in suburban Philadelphia and a Quaker meetinghouse in the tony Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said. The indictment’s allegations appear to back up longstanding complaints by developers over union tactics in Philadelphia, a city that is home to powerful trade unions and has a long history of organized labor.

In a 49-page grand jury indictment, prosecutors say the defendants helped create “goon” squads to carry out the assaults and property destruction against non-union contractors in an attempt to force them to hire Ironworkers Local 401’s members. One goon squad referred to itself as T.H.U.Gs, short for The Helpful Union Guys.

The indictment included quoted at length some of the men charged, but a spokeswoman for Memeger’s office would not say whether investigators listened in on telephone conversations or whether informants wore listening devices.

The indictment documented 11 episodes over three-plus years through October 2013. In a statement, Philadelphia’s FBI special agent-in-charge, Edward J. Hanko, called the union’s tactics “outrageous and brazen” and said he expected more victims to come forward.

In a statement, Walter W. Wise, president of the Ironworkers international union, said “we have never and will never tolerate any of the alleged acts contained in the accusations.”

Those arrested include Joseph Dougherty, the union’s business manager. Dougherty, 72, of Philadelphia coordinated the campaign of extortion and sabotage, prosecutors said. The rest of the men charged live in Philadelphia or elsewhere in southeastern Pennsylvania, except for business agent William O’Donnell, 61, of Cherry Hill, N.J.

Lawyers for Dougherty and O’Donnell did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday. Both men face a racketeering conspiracy charge, while Dougherty also was charged with various arson counts, prosecutors said.

If a contractor who was using non-union labor refused the union’s overtures, picket lines and threats of violence and property destruction followed, sometimes culminating in actual attacks or destruction, prosecutors said.

The local’s members referred to the activity as “night work” and Ironworkers Local 401 outfitted one goon squad with an acetylene torch, gas and oxygen tanks to commit the arsons, the indictment said.

Setting a crane on fire and cutting steel beams supporting at a Quaker meetinghouse in December 2012 helped caused $500,000 damage there, prosecutors said.

In 2010, members of Ironworkers Local 401 allegedly went to a Toys R Us construction site in suburban King of Prussia and flattened about 80 anchor bolts and damaged the control panel on a piece of construction equipment.

On certain occasions, the union was satisfied if a couple of its members were hired to no-work jobs on the construction site, the indictment said. In October, police caught two members of Ironworkers Local 401 entering a construction site in Malvern with a torch, it said.

Members of the squads were told that they would be rewarded with preferential treatment on job assignments and appointments to positions of authority, it said.

The men were arraigned Tuesday afternoon before a federal magistrate judge and released with conditions, Memeger’s office said.

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