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Ex-UAW vice president pleads guilty in Fiat-Chrysler corruption scheme


Former United Auto Workers Vice President Norwood Jewell has pleaded guilty to violating federal labor law by misusing money meant for a worker training center.

The government says Jewell was part of a wide-ranging, years-long conspiracy between Fiat-Chrysler and UAW officials to siphon funds from the automaker-supported training center. 

Norwood became a UAW vice president and head of the union’s Chrysler department in mid-2014. When he did so, the government says he entered a “culture of corruption” established by his predecessor, General Holiefield, along with former FCA Vice President Alphons Iacobelli and other union and FCA officials.

The scheme involved FCA payments to a joint UAW-Chrysler worker training center. Both FCA and UAW officials inappropriately diverted those funds for their own use, the government says.

Jewell pleaded guilty to using his training center credit card for thousands of dollars in meals at a California steakhouse, at a Palm Springs golf resort, and for travel and other expenses that should have been picked up by the UAW. He also allowed subordinates to make similar purchases with their credit cards.

During his plea hearing, Jewell said, “a lot of activity was concealed from me,” but “I own the fact that we did not apportion costs appropriately. As a union rep, I can’t take anything of value from a company we bargain with.”

Jewell has steadfastly denied that the scheme, which the government says ended in 2016, influenced collective bargaining negotiations. The UAW and FCA bargained a new contract in 2015, with one tentative agreement rejected by union workers before a final agreement was reached.

The government will recommend a 15-month prison term when Jewell is sentenced in August.

“It’s a sad day. The man is a legend,” Jewell’s attorney Michael Manley said Tuesday.

“A man gets put in a cesspool. He was destined to fail the second he got in there, because of the way things were run prior to [his tenure].”

Manley says there’s a difference between his client and others charged in the scheme, saying Jewell’s crimes were more along the lines of “technical violations” of the law.

“My hope is that [Jewell] doesn’t go to jail,” Manley said. “My hope is that the judge sees he is distinguishable from every other defendant that has come forth, that took things for personal use.”

Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider didn’t buy that argument.

“That’s not a technical error,” Schneider said of Jewell’s crime. “It’s a violation of the law of the United States.”

Schneider added that the investigation into the corruption conspiracy, which has now netted eight guilty pleas, is “ongoing. It’s going to continue because what really matters here is the hard-working men and women of the union.”

Jewell is the highest-ranking UAW official charged in the scheme so far. His predecessor Holiefield died in 2015, though Holiefield’s widow pleaded guilty to tax crimes as part of the scandal.

Ex-UAW President Dennis Williams’ name has surfaced during the investigation, but he has not been charged.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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