Former 1199C District Supervisor Chris Woods charged with stealing to pay Democratic consultant Tracy Hardy

State and federal authorities said the former head of one of Philadelphia’s largest labor unions stole more than $150,000 from its members to illegally support candidates in the May 2019 Democratic primary.

Christen “Chris” Woods, who headed District 1199C of the National Hospital and Healthcare Workers Union from 2019 to 2021, concealed the missing money as payment for the renovation of a bar at his union’s Old Town headquarters, a state grand jury found in presentation made public on Monday.

Instead, the grand jury found, the funds were used to pay a Philadelphia political consultant who handled a get-out-the-vote effort in favor of several candidates supported by Woods and his union.

” READ MORE: Read the presentation

Woods and that consultant – Tracy Hardy, former chief of staff to state Sen. Sharif Street and chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party – now face criminal charges in connection with what prosecutors describe as their efforts to circumvent state campaign finance laws and U.S. Department of Labor union reporting requirements. If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison on the most serious charges.

“The law is very clear on how unions can support candidates and their campaigns,” said Attorney General Michelle Henry – wrote in the statement. “These two men are accused of intentionally defrauding the workers’ union through an elaborate scheme to steal and donate money to political causes.”

Reached via text message on Tuesday, Woods, 39, declined to comment, referring all questions to his lawyers. Defense lawyers Keir Bradford-Grey and Mark Cedrone rejected the accusations in a statement, calling them a “narrow, one-sided view.”

“Mr. Woods did not defraud or conspire to defraud the members of District 1199C, for whom he has fought throughout his career,” they stated. “In fact, it was the lack of a plan that landed Mr. Woods in this case. This is not a crime and it is It’s unfortunate that we’re here.”

Still, the case against the former union leader and political consultant is the culmination of a five-year investigation by state prosecutors and the FBI, as well as controversy that has swirled for years over Woods’ leadership in his union.

Politics and problems

Woods rose to prominence as the deputy to Henry Nicholas, a prominent figure in organized labor and city politics who, during more than three decades at the helm of District 1199C, transformed the 8,000-plus-member union representing hospital and nursing home workers into a political force whose support helped elect mayors , governors and members of the City Council.

Woods’ growing clout earned him a spot on District Attorney Larry Krasner’s transition team even before he became head of his union.

However, after Woods assumed the day-to-day duties of acting president in 2019, his tenure proved short-lived. The union’s national leadership ousted him within two years following a dispute over local government finances. Woods, who is black, dismissed the move at the time as politically and racially motivated.

The case filed against Woods last week appears to be unrelated to these events. The grand jury presentation also did not mention which candidates on the May 2019 grand jury panel benefited from what prosecutors now describe as his illegal assistance paid for with union funds.

However, that year, District 1199C endorsed several candidates, including Jim Kenney, who ran for a second term as mayor, and City Council member Isaiah Thomas, who won the general election and secured a seat on the board. Thomas and Woods, who grew up together in North Philadelphia, co-founded a nonprofit organization that hosts summer basketball camps throughout the city each year.

The union’s endorsement also helped elect crime victims activist Movita Johnson-Harrell to the House seat representing West Philadelphia’s 190th District during a special election this March. She pleaded guilty to charges of embezzling more than half a million dollars from the nonprofit she ran and resigned within eight months of taking the oath of office.

Misused EU funds?

However, despite the full list of candidates District 1199C supported this spring, its political action committee had almost no money to support these campaigns.

State campaign finance laws prohibit unions from donating directly to political campaigns from their general funds. Instead, these contributions must come from affiliated political action committees, which are funded by voluntary contributions from members’ salaries.

But according to campaign finance records, in the two months before the May 2019 primary, the District 1199C PAC never had more than $3,500 in the bank. According to the presentation, one witness who testified before the grand jury described it as a “nothing” PAC.

So, prosecutors say, Woods instead raided his union’s general fund. And this is where, in their opinion, Hardy – his longtime friend and now co-defendant – stepped in.

In March 2019, Woods hired Manayunk Construction and Development Corp., founded a few months earlier by Hardy, to renovate the bar at District 1199C union hall.

Hardy – an elderly hand in Philadelphia political circles, a former aide to Mayor John F. Street and onetime chief of staff to Street’s son, state senator Sharif Street – had no construction experience and his company was not permitted to work in the city.

Still, prosecutors say, he worked with Woods to secure a $140,000 contract from the union by falsifying bids and submitting false, more high-priced estimates purporting to be from other companies so that the union’s board would have the impression that the bidding process was competitive. .

The union paid Hardy’s construction company more than $180,000 over the next two months, allegedly to complete electrical, plumbing and other repairs to a bar in District 1199C.

Although investigators acknowledge that some work was completed, the actual cost of these repairs was less than one-third of the amount transferred to Hardy’s company during this period. In one case, the union later paid an outside company to perform some of the same electrical work on the bar for which Hardy had already paid $20,000.

Prosecutors say most of the funds Hardy’s construction company received were used to support his political activities on behalf of Woods and the 1199C District.

Hardy, 51, did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment on the charges against him or his political activities on behalf of District 1199C-backed candidates in May 2019. Union representatives also did not return phone calls.

But the presentation detailed efforts by Woods and Hardy to further strengthen the political consultant’s ties to the union after the primary election that landed both men in court.

In June of this year, Hardy drafted a proposed agreement that would require District 1199C to pay his consulting firm, Monroe Press, $12,000 a month for political work, investigators say – an extraordinary sum that dwarfed what the union paid its own attorneys each month.

Still, Woods called District 1199 attorney Lance Geren to ask how much of the union’s general fund he could devote to political causes, prosecutors say.

Geren didn’t tell him at all. According to the presenter, Woods suddenly hung up the phone.

The lawyer, who would later testify before the grand jury that indicted Woods and Hardy this week, resigned within months of that phone call.

Staff writer Sean Collins Walsh contributed to this article.

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