A former high-level official in the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) General Motors Department was sentenced to 28 months in federal prison last week for taking more than $1.5 million in bribes and kickbacks.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, Michael Grimes received more than two years in prison Wednesday for conspiring with other UAW officials to take bribes and kickbacks from UAW vendors and contracts, and for conspiring to launder the proceeds of the scheme.
Joseph Ashton, former UAW vice president, and Jeffrey Pietrzyk, one of Ashton’s top aides, pleaded guilty last year for their involvement in taking bribes and kickbacks from vendors who were doing business with the joint UAW-GM Center for Human Resources.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the “pay-to-play” scheme began in 2006 and lasted for more than 12 years. Grimes, who served on the executive board of the Center for Human Resources, spent more than $1.5 million from the scheme on property, houses, cosmetic surgery for a relative, and a “host of other items which never benefited the UAW membership.”
In one case, Grimes, Ashton, and Pietrzyk demanded kickbacks on a $3.9 million contract for the Center for Human Resources to buy 58,000 watches for all UAW members employed by GM. They received the watches from the vendor, but they were never distributed to UAW members and have been sitting in a storage warehouse for more than five years.
Ashton and Pietrzyk have yet to receive their sentences.
Grimes’ sentencing is just the latest news out of a massive FBI investigation into corruption within the UAW. At least nine other individuals have been sentenced for their participation in the scheme.
“It is imperative that the UAW leadership continues to be held accountable to their fiduciary duties and responsibilities,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider. “Today’s sentence represents another step forward in our efforts to target and prosecute corrupt UAW leaders who place their drive for personal enrichment ahead of the mission of the union.”
Former UAW President Gary Jones resigned his union membership in December amid the ongoing federal corruption 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 union funds that were spent on personal luxuries, The Michigan Star reported.
The FBI and IRS raided Jones’ family home in August and discovered wads of cash in his garage totaling $32,000. His daughter was allowed to stay at a Palm Springs home paid for by the UAW in January 2014 and no UAW business was attached to the stay. Arranging for his daughter to stay at the home violated both union rules and federal law.
“The trail of money has led to the truth, an ugly truth of bribery, kickbacks and sham corporations, ultimately netting Michael Grimes $1.5 million dollars at the expense of UAW workers,” said Sarah Kull, Special Agent in Charge of Detroit’s IRS Criminal Investigation. “Today’s sentence brings the UAW one step closer to removing the greedy and corrupt leadership that once embodied UAW officials across the country.”
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