- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Philadelphia ironworkers eager to get day work at their union hall have admitted in court that they did “nightwork” at non-union job sites, torching buildings and toppling steel beams.

Four of 10 people charged in a federal indictment pleaded guilty to racketeering charges this week, and four more have signed plea agreements. They each face more than a decade in prison unless they get significant breaks amid their pleas.

Three union members took part in the devastating Dec. 20, 2012, arson of a Quaker meetinghouse being built in Philadelphia, the February indictment charged. All three are pleading guilty, including James Walsh, who entered his plea Tuesday.

“There has been a long tradition of nightwork within the Ironworkers Local 401 stretching back 50 years or more,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Livermore wrote in Walsh’s plea memos. “The defendants in this case took (it) to a new level.”

The group’s intimidation tactics included beating non-union workers with a baseball bat, damaging huge structural beams and anchor bolts, and using gasoline to set fire to a crane, the plea document said.

“Facing mounting costs, construction delays, and the fear of physical assault, many non-union contractors caved into the Ironworkers Local 401’s extortionate demands and hired some union ironworkers,” Livermore wrote.

Walsh was something of an outsider because he did not have relatives in the union and, as a recovering alcoholic, did not go out for beers after work. He therefore aimed to become a “legend” when it came to after-hour sabotage.

“It does seem you have to do nightwork to be considered for day work,” defense lawyer William J. Brennan said Tuesday. “If that’s the case, it’s unfortunate.”

He called Walsh a hard-working man trying to support his family. The other co-defendants pleading guilty this week include William Gillin, who was also involved in the meetinghouse arson.

The lead defendant, 73-year-old business manager Joseph Dougherty, is now retired but plans to fight the charges.

“Joe Dougherty was not involved in any of the criminal activity associated with the Ironworkers union,” defense lawyer Fortunato Perri Jr. said Tuesday. “Nor did he order anything.”

Dougherty’s trial is set for Jan. 5.

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