Federal prosecutors have charged Joe Ashton, a former United Auto Workers vice president who served as director of General Motors Co., with money laundering and wire fraud in the wide-ranging probe into corruption among leaders of the UAW.
Ashton, who served as head of the union’s GM department until in 2014, was the union’s representative on the GM board of directors for three years until 2017 when he abruptly resigned as the federal investigation in corruption in the UAW picked up momentum
The UAW never named a replacement for Ashton on the GM board even though his original appointment was considered a major victory for the union.
“Joe Ashton’s actions, as set forth in the Government’s filings, are completely inexcusable and violate UAW’s long-standing standards of conduct put in place by former leaders like Walter Reuther,” acting UAW President Rory Gamble said in a statement.
The UAW remains focused on negotiating and finalizing strong contracts for our members, especially during this round of auto negotiations.”
The union’s VEBA, which pays the health care bill for retired auto workers once employed by GM, Ford and Chrysler, subsequently sold a major block of GM shares and has not sought to put a member on the automaker’s board of directors.
Federal prosecutors charged Ashton with demanding kickbacks from vendors as part of an illicit scheme described in federal court documents.
In return for the kickbacks, he has been accused of helping steer at least $15.8 million worth of UAW merchandise contracts to vendors, including his personal chiropractor.
Two other former union officials who participated in the conspiracy, Jeff Pietrzyk and Mike Grimes, have already pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering and are thought to have provided information to federal prosecutors in exchange for leniency at sentencing.
Ashton was specifically charged with fraud and money-laundering conspiracies. The fraud charge is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison; money-laundering conspiracy is a 10-year felony.
The joint program operated by GM and the UAW since the mid-1980s has come under scrutiny during the union’s recent negotiations with the GM. As part of the settlement that ended a 40-day strike against GM, both sides agreed to sell the joint programs lavish headquarters on the Detroit River and restructure the programs.
So far 10 UAW officers and officials have been charged in the probe, which also forced UAW president Gary Jones to take a leave of absence after he was identified participating in scheme to embezzle money from the union treasury.