DETROIT—Prosecutors on Thursday charged the former president of the United Auto Workers with corruption, alleging he plotted with others to embezzle more than $1 million to splurge on private villas, golf outings, boozy meals and horseback rides on beaches.
The federal government has been marching toward Gary Jones for months, after an embarrassing search of his Detroit-area home and a series of guilty pleas in a wide-ranging investigation of UAW leaders living the high life while representing blue collar workers.
“We stand before you today because of greed—pure and simple greed. … The charges against Gary Jones are offensive to the hard-working men and women of the UAW,” said Steve D’Antuono, the head of the FBI in Detroit.
Jones was charged with conspiring to embezzle, to aid racketeering and to defraud the government. The document was titled a criminal “information,” which signals that a guilty plea is likely.
Defense attorney J. Bruce Maffeo offered no comment. Jones was UAW president for about 1 1/2 years before quitting under a cloud in November.
Nine union officials and a late official’s spouse have pleaded guilty since 2017. The investigation began with the discovery that Fiat Chrysler money from a Fiat Chrysler-UAW job training center was stolen. It then stretched to embezzlement of union funds.
The court filing against Jones describes a scheme to pocket cash and enjoy luxuries, starting in 2010, long before he rose to the presidency.
Jones and other officials set up accounts that were supposed to be used for legitimate conference expenses in California. Instead, according to the government, they used the money to pay for “private villas, high-end liquor and meal expenses, golfing apparel, golf clubs and green fees.”
Jones, for example, ordered more than $13,000 worth of cigars from a shop in Arizona, according to the court document.
U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider recited a litany of other excesses: horseback riding on the beach, sunglasses, spa treatments for spouses.
“We are not done and I can’t predict when we will be done,” Schneider said when asked if more people were being targeted.
The latest guilty plea occurred Monday when Edward “Nick” Robinson appeared in court. He was based at the UAW’s Region 5 office near St. Louis, which was led by Jones until Jones became UAW president in 2018. The government said Robinson fraudulently obtained $500,000 to $700,000, giving at least $60,000 to Jones.
Vance Pearson, another Jones ally from his time in St. Louis, pleaded guilty in February. He followed Jones to become head of the regional office.
The UAW expressed disgust about the allegations against Jones, who marched in Detroit’s Labor Day parade last year, just days after agents seized golf clubs and more than $30,000 from his Canton Township home.
“This is a violation of trust, a violation of the sacred management of union dues, and goes against everything we believe in as a union,” the UAW said.
The union now is led by Rory Gamble, who has promised to reform the culture in the UAW’s top ranks. As part of that effort, a Michigan vacation home built on union property for retired President Dennis Williams is listed for sale at $1.3 million.
The UAW, based in Detroit, has about 400,000 members and is best known for representing workers at Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Ford Motor.
Schneider said some type of government oversight of the UAW is possible when the criminal investigation ends. He referred to recent positive comments by the head of the Teamsters union, which emerged from oversight after 30 years.
“It could possibly be a good model here,” Schneider said.
The scandal has caused tension between GM and Fiat Chrysler. GM filed a racketeering lawsuit against the rival, alleging Fiat Chrysler was able to negotiate valuable labor concessions with the UAW in exchange for payoffs at a job training center. Three Fiat Chrysler officials pleaded guilty, including the company’s former labor relations chief.
A $262,000 mortgage on a union official’s home was paid off with training center money from Fiat Chrysler.
By Ed White