The former co-director of United Auto Workers-General Motors Center for Human Resources pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal criminal charges of money laundering and wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Jeff Pietzryk, 74, former co-director of the center, admitted in court conspiring with two other union officials to defrauding the jointly administered fund and taking kickbacks on contracts awarded by the CHR. Pietzryk now faces up to 30 months in prison, according to federal prosecutors.
The information filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office said that Pietzryk, conspired with Michael Grimes, another UAW official, and another unnamed union officer believed to be Joe Ashton, former UAW vice president and GM board member, to accept kickbacks from vendors.
The UAW-GM Center for Human Resources was used for training and educating auto workers about new technology. Under the terms of the UAW’s new tentative agreement, the CHR will be restructured because of the unfolding scandal.
Robert Singer, Pietzryk’s lawyer, said Pietzryk was sorry for the damage done to the CHR because it helped many GM workers.
“The charges against Jeff Pietrzyk are serious, and the conduct outlined in his charges is not just illegal, it is an affront to every member of the UAW,” the union said in a statement. “The UAW has already made changes to its purchasing procedures that require three bids and pushed the Joint Program Centers to significantly tighten their accounting controls to prevent this type of criminal activity from happening again.
“This conduct—which was suspiciously announced in the middle of our current bargaining—must not and will not distract us from negotiating the strongest possible contract for our members.”
Five high-ranking union officials, including one UAW vice president, Norwood Jewell, have pleaded guilty to federal felony charges. A sixth union official is now expected to enter a guilty plea while a seventh, Vance Pearson, is awaiting arraignment in federal district court in Detroit. Pearson has taken a leave of absence from his post as the director of UAW Region.
The late General Holiefield, the former head of the UAW Chrysler Department, was cited by federal authorities for his role in the scandal at the joint UAW-FCA training center for his role in diverting thousands of dollars in training funds into his own pocket.
Jones is implicated in the same “information” that federal prosecutors filed against Pearson.
The scandal has cast a pall over the UAW’s negotiations with GM, where more than 48,000 union members remain on strike, and the other automakers and spawned hundreds of critical posts from UAW members on social media.
When the scandal first erupted two years ago then-UAW President Dennis Williams said the union planned its own investigation and report to members. The internal report has been superseded by the federal probe, according to a UAW spokesman.
However, the joint training funds that are at the center of the scandal have been criticized by union activists for years. They complain the funds, which file only limited reports with the U.S. Department of Labor, aren’t held to any kind of account. In addition, money from the funds have been manipulated and used for political patronage to help stifle dissent within the union’s ranks, activists have said over the years.