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Disgraced ex-UAW president Jones sentenced to 28 months for corruption scandal


Detroit — Former United Auto Workers President Gary Jones was sentenced to 28 months Thursday for helping steal as much as $1.5 million from members, splurging on personal luxuries — including private villas, steak dinners, booze and golf gear — and failing to pay taxes.

The sentencing by U.S. District Judge Paul Borman caps the downfall of Jones, 64, whose short tenure atop one of the nation's most influential unions started with cheers during a ceremony at Cobo Center three years ago. Within months, the reclusive leader was linked to lavish spending at union junkets in Palm Springs, federal agents raided his home, he was identified by The Detroit News as a target of a corruption investigation, and UAW members hurled insults and catcalls as he marched in the Labor Day parade in Detroit before resigning in November 2019.

Prosecutors wanted Jones to serve 28 months and portrayed him as a greedy crook driven by "naked ambition" who stole union dues withheld from members' paychecks and robbed them of trust and confidence in the union. Jones deserved a break, prosecutors also said, because he helped secure the conviction of his predecessor, retired UAW President Dennis Williams, and is willing to cooperate against others who are under investigation. 

Prosecutors said Jones will pay $550,000 restitution to the UAW, $42,000 to the IRS, and forfeit $151,377.

Jones, speaking rapidly, apologized to his family and the union, which is being overseen by a court-appointed independent watchdog empowered to root out corruption.

“I failed them. I failed the UAW," Jones told the judge in a quivering voice. "I let my union down. I pray every day that no harm comes to the UAW.”

Then, Jones fist-bumped his attorney Bruce Maffeo and prosecutors then hugged and kissed his wife — though both were wearing masks.

A 28-month sentence is the second longest for a UAW official convicted in the corruption scandal. Former Vice President Joe Ashton was sentenced to 30 months for taking $250,000 in kickbacks from a union vendor, and former UAW official Mike Grimes was sentenced to 28 months after admitting he received $1.5 million in bribes and kickbacks from a union contractor.

The judge blamed Jones for “sliding ... into significantly corrupt activity" after a distinguished rise within the union ranks that started at a Ford Motor Co. assembly plant almost a half-century ago.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gardey faulted the UAW’s upper echelon, a group he said was notable for its lack of democracy that demands “unquestioning obedience to bosses.”

“(Gary Jones) was a good man who found himself in and worked in a culture of corruption, which was the leadership of the United Auto Workers union," Gardey told the judge.

Prosecutors could return later to ask for Jones to be released from prison early if he continues to provide substantial assistance in the ongoing investigation. He also is helping the independent watchdog.

Maffeo described Jones as a remorseful man who atoned for his crimes, accepted responsibility and provided open-ended cooperation to federal agents.

“He’s done everything he can do to try and pay back the debt he owes to the union, his family and society,” Maffeo told the judge.

Maffeo said there was a “common theme” among union leadership of “a sense of entitlement.” 

"He knew enough to say no and he didn’t," Maffeo said. "That is to his eternal regret and shame, and that is a burden he and his family will be carrying with them for the rest of their lives — even after this proceeding and its consequences are soldiered through."

The sentencing came seven months after prosecutors and the UAW reached agreement to have an independent watchdog oversee the union for six years, a deal expected to cost millions and add to the cost of the corruption scandal.

Jones and Williams are the highest-ranking UAW officials convicted in a four-year-old prosecution that has led to the convictions of 15 people and revealed UAW leaders and auto executives broke labor laws, stole union funds and received bribes and kickbacks. Fiat Chrysler U.S., now known as Stellantis, also was convicted and agreed to pay a $30 million fine because executives paid more than $3.5 million in bribes to union leaders.

The final UAW official awaiting a prison term, former regional Director Vance Pearson, will be sentenced July 8.

“The fact that two former international UAW Presidents will be going to prison after being convicted of embezzling UAW dues money demonstrates that no one is above the law,” acting U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin said in a statement. “The working men and women of the UAW can feel that justice was done, and that their union is on the road to reform.”

UAW leaders have required Jones to repay legal fees paid and money “he wrongly took or misspent,” according to a union statement Thursday.  

“As we have committed to our membership, when the UAW finds there has been wrongdoing, we will take all available actions to hold that person accountable regardless of status within the organization,” union President Rory Gamble said in the statement.

Prosecutors described tens of thousands of dollars embezzled for personal use and a litany of lavish purchases Jones made with union funds, including custom-made golf clubs, months-long vacations in Palm Springs villas, and more than $60,000 in cigars, entertainment, golf and liquor.

"The exorbitance was jaw-dropping," prosecutors wrote. 

The direct benefit to Jones, his lawyer said, was approximately $90,000. Investigators from the FBI, Labor Department and Internal Revenue Service spent years building a case against him with undercover recordings, bank records and a team of former confidantes and senior UAW officers who cooperated with the government.

A year ago, Jones admitted embezzling the money in support of racketeering activity, evading taxes and causing the UAW to file false tax returns. The crimes spanned from 2010-19, a period that matched Jones' rise from heading a union regional office near St. Louis, Mo., to his tenure atop the UAW.

He admitted scheming with at least six senior UAW officers in a multi-year conspiracy to steal money spent on luxury items for labor leaders. Jones helped conceal the crime by hiding the expenses in the cost of holding UAW conferences in Palm Springs, Calif., Missouri and elsewhere.

play
UAW spends big in Palm Springs
Tour golf courses and resorts frequented by UAW officials in Palm Springs, Calif., where the union has spent more than $1 million in recent years.
Robert Snell, The Detroit News

The conspiracy involved submitting phony expense forms to conceal that labor leaders were spending member dues withheld from worker paychecks on entertainment and personal expenses. Those expenses included more than $750,000 spent on private villas, cigars, golf equipment and apparel, meals and liquor — including $400 bottles of Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne and Canadian vodka served in a crystal skull.

Jones also admitted helping to embezzle more than $60,000 in cash from co-conspirator Nick Robinson, who cashed more than $500,000 in checks from a UAW community action program.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews