Prosecutors on Thursday charged the former president of the United Auto Workers with corruption, alleging he conspired with others at the union to embezzle more than $1 million.
The federal government has been marching toward Gary Jones for months, after an embarrassing public search of his Detroit-area home and a series of guilty pleas from others in a sweeping investigation of UAW leaders living the high life.
Jones was president for about 1-1/2 years before quitting in November. He was charged with conspiracy in a document titled a criminal “information,” which signals that a guilty plea is likely.
Jones’ attorney, J. Bruce Maffeo, had no comment Thursday afternoon.
Nine union officials and an 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. The cost: more than $1 million.
Jones and other officials set up accounts that were supposed to be used for legitimate conference expenses in California. Instead, according to the government, officials used the money to pay for “private villas, high-end liquor and meal expenses, golfing apparel, golf clubs and green fees.”
For example, Jones ordered more than $13,000 worth of cigars from a shop in Arizona in 2015, according to the court document.
The latest person to plead guilty in the scheme was Edward “Nick” Robinson, on Monday. 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 and gave at least $60,000 to Jones.
Vance Pearson, another Jones ally from his time in St. Louis, pleaded guilty in February. He succeeded Jones as head of the regional office.
The UAW expressed disgust about the allegations against Jones, who marched in Detroit’s Labor Day parade in September, just days after agents seized golf clubs and more than $30,000 from his home in Canton Township.
“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, which is based in Detroit, has about 400,000 members and is best known for representing workers at Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Ford Motor.
The scandal caused tension between GM and Fiat Chrysler. GM filed a racketeering lawsuit against the rival, alleging it 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.