Former UAW Vice President Joe Ashton pleaded guilty last week to taking bribes and kickbacks from UAW vendors and conspiring to launder the proceeds of the scheme.
U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider announced the guilty plea Wednesday and noted that Ashton is the eleventh defendant to plead guilty in connection with the ongoing investigation into corruption within the UAW. Jeffery Pietrzyk, a former top aide for Ashton, pleaded guilty in October for his involvement in the scheme.
During the plea hearing, Ashton admitted that he conspired with Pietrzyk and Michael Grimes to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks from vendors doing business with the joint UAW-General Motors Center for Human Resources, which is supposed to be a center for training UAW workers employed by GM.
Ashton and his co-conspirators demanded kickbacks on a $3.9 million contract for the Center for Human Resources and used the money to buy 58,000 watches for all UAW members employed by GM.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office:
The UAW officials demanded over $250,000 in kickbacks on the watch contract to be distributed between 2013 through 2016. Some of the kickbacks were distributed in the form of checks payable to Ashton which were deposited into his personal bank account. The majority of the kickbacks were distributed as cash. In 2014, the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources received the 58,000 watches from the vendor. However, the watches were never distributed to UAW members. Instead, the watches have been sitting in storage in a warehouse for over five years.
Ashton also admitted to conspiring to launder the proceeds of the kickback by using “various methods to conceal and disguise the bribes and kickbacks through a lengthy and complicated series of financial transactions.”
“The hard-working members of the UAW deserve to be represented by union officials dedicated to providing honest representation free of corruption and greed, and today’s guilty plea is another step in the right direction,” said Schneider.
Steven D’Antuono, a special agent in charge for the FBI’s Detroit field office, said Ashton “abused the power of his position in the UAW to brazenly demand kickbacks from a vendor.”
“His actions deprived union members of the honest services they expect and deserve from those who are elected to make decisions in the union’s best interest,” he added. “The FBI is committed to fighting such corruption, which does real and lasting damage to the trust union members should have in their elected leadership.”
Former UAW President Gary Jones resigned his union membership earlier this month amid the ongoing federal investigation. Jones hasn’t been charged with a crime yet, but federal prosecutors say he and other union leaders were involved in the embezzling of more than $1.5 million in union funds that were spent on personal luxuries.
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