BC-AUTO-UAW-CHARGED:DE _ business, itop (600 words)
Dennis Williams becomes 2nd ex-UAW president charged in corruption probe
By Eric D. Lawrence
Detroit Free Press
DETROIT _ Dennis Williams preached “solidarity together forever” as he gave his farewell address in 2018 as UAW president, but on Thursday, Williams became the latest former union leader nabbed in a scandal that has tarnished the image of an organization long regarded as the gold standard for clean unions.
More distressing to rank-and-file members perhaps is that Williams is not the first ex-UAW president charged criminally in a years-long federal probe. That distinction goes to Williams’ successor, Gary Jones, whose agreement to cooperate in the investigation put speculation about who would be next to fall squarely on Williams.
Prosecutors charged Williams of Corona, California, with conspiracy to embezzle union funds. The charges were filed as an information, meaning he is likely to plead guilty.
“While he was an officer of the UAW between 2013 and 2018, Dennis Williams accepted housing for himself in Palm Springs, California, housing for his friends in Palm Springs, California, golf clothing and other related merchandise, rounds of golf outside of the dates of UAW conferences, and certain meals, liquor,
and cigars provided to him by co-conspirators Gary Jones” and others, the filing said, noting that these things were paid for with union funds.
Prosecutors had listed Williams as an unnamed union official _ identified thento the Free Press by a source _ in federal court papers last year. The documents alleged he and other union officials embezzled $1.5 million in union funds. Prosecutors have painted the scandal as one of simple greed, with union leaders helping themselves to fancy dinners, cigars, jewelry and more. For instance, more than $32,000 was seized from Jones’ home last year.
Williams took the helm of the UAW in 2014. The union, on its website, said Williams was a U.S. Marine Corp veteran who “joined UAW Local 806 in 1977 at J.I. Case where he was a salvage welder.” Despite a union experience that “carried him through the many diverse sectors of the UAW,” many members might focus more on the infamous hug at the start of contract bargaining in 2015 between Williams and Sergio Marchionne, then CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles who has since died. That embrace sparked concerns that the relationship might be a bit too cozy.
This month, the union’s International Executive Board voted to stop paying for Williams’ attorney. The UAW listed $320,912 in legal fees for Williams in 2019, according to a federal filing. The union had earlier decided to have Williams repay more than $56,000 “spent for housing and related travel expenses while he was in office that were determined to be personal in nature.”
Last year, as part of a series of reforms, the UAW also announced it would sell a lavish and controversial cottage designated for Williams at the UAW Walter and May Reuther Family Education Center in northern Michigan.
The UAW is not the only organization to be tainted by the scandal, which also put a spotlight on Fiat Chrysler. Among the ex-FCA officials convicted is one-time lead labor negotiator Alphons Iacobelli, who is serving time in a federal prison in West Virginia. The company, which has not been charged, has acknowledged negotiating with the Justice Department on a possible resolution to the case. And General Motors had a former board member, ex-UAW Vice President Joe Ashton, convicted in a scheme involving bribes and kickbacks.
For its part, GM has sued FCA, claiming, among other things, that Ashton was a paid mole. A federal judge in Detroit dismissed the case, but GM filed an appeal. FCA called claims that it sought to corrupt bargaining to harm GM meritless and GM’s tactics despicable. The UAW is not a defendant in the suit.