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Ex-UAW president sentenced to 21 months in prison in union corruption scheme

United Auto Workers union president Dennis Williams raises his arm in solidarity after his farewell speech during the 37th Constitutional Convention in Detroit, Michigan, June 13, 2018.

Rebecca Cook | Reuters

DETROIT — A former president of the United Auto Workers who took part in a scheme along with other union officials in which they embezzled at least $1.5 million in member funds for lavish trips, golfing, alcohol and other luxuries was sentenced Tuesday to 21 months in prison.

Dennis Williams is the highest-ranking union official to be sentenced as part of a multiyear corruption probe into the prominent American labor union. He is one of 15 people to have been charged, including three Fiat Chrysler executives and his successor, who is awaiting sentencing.

Williams on Tuesday choked up as he addressed the court during the virtual hearing. He apologized to his family as well as the UAW’s members for his actions.

“I’ve thought long and hard about how my actions and the actions of others hurt the union that I love,” Williams said. “I am more than the actions that have brought me here before you in this case.”

Williams pleaded guilty in September to conspiring with other union officials to embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars, as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors. Under terms of the agreement, his sentence would be between 18 and 24 months.

Williams was also instructed to pay $147,976 in restitution, including $132,517 to the UAW and $15,459 to the Internal Revenue Service.

Federal prosecutors had recommended the maximum sentencing guidelines for Williams, who led the union from 2014 to 2018. In court documents, they described Williams as being intricately involved with the illegal activities and living a “double life.”

“Dennis Williams tried to live two lives. On the one hand, at public events, he excoriated the things that were ‘wrong in the United States of America’ because union members ‘cannot buy the things they build,'” assistant U.S. attorneys wrote last week in a sentencing memo. “But in private, he exploited the hundreds of thousands of UAW members that he led.”

President Donald Trump talks with auto industry leaders, including General Motors CEO Mary Barra (L) and United Auto Workers (UAW) President Dennis Williams (R) at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan, U.S. March 15, 2017.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

In a separate memo, Williams’ lawyers argued he should not spend more than one year and a day in federal prison. They touted him as a “devoted family man” and Marine veteran who made “mistakes.”

“Mr. Williams’ life — until his conviction — was a great American success story,” they wrote. The lawyers blamed his successor, Gary Jones, a regional director under Williams, for much of the maleficence. Williams and his lawyer on Tuesday continued to blame Jones, portraying Williams as an unwitting beneficiary of the illegal activities.

“In my gut I knew better, and I failed to stop it,” he said. “I lost my perspective of who I was and what I was about. I’ll always regret it.”

Family members as well as others, including actor Danny Glover, submitted letters to the court in support of Williams. Glover, in a letter, said he “worked closely” with Williams for six years when the UAW was attempting to organize workers at Nissan Motor in Mississippi.

Prison sentences for those charged as part of the federal probe have ranged from 60 days to five and a half years. Ex-Fiat Chrysler executive Alphons Iacobelli, who led the company’s labor relations, received the lengthiest sentence; however, it was recently reduced to four years.

In December, the UAW and federal prosecutors agreed to end the corruption probe into the union under a civil settlement that included an independent monitor overseeing the organization for six years.

Other requirements under the deal include the union conducting a memberwide vote to potentially reform its voting process and making certain repayments, including a $1.5 million payment to the IRS. The UAW has already paid back about $15 million to training centers for improper chargebacks uncovered by officials.

A federal criminal investigation into individuals regarding the probe is ongoing, according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.

The UAW, in a statement Tuesday, said Williams has “rightfully been sentenced today for his crimes that put his personal and self-interest above that of our members.”

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