A key aide to United Auto Workers President Gary Jones is now facing criminal charges involving the diversion of $1.5 million dollars in union funds for personal use and other potential violations.
According to a filing in U.S. District Court, investigators detailed how some of money was converted to cash and discussed finding employment for relatives of potential witnesses and the need to use “burner” phones to avoid surveillance by federal prosecutors.
Edward “Nick” Robinson, the head of the UAW’s political action committee in Hazelwood, Missouri, where Jones was regional director until his selection as UAW president in 2018, was charged with embezzlement of $1.5 million from the UAW.
“We take any allegation or claim about the misuse of union resources very seriously. The UAW is grounded in the principle of putting our members first, and that belief has never wavered. The UAW remains focused on negotiating and finalizing strong contracts for our members–especially during this round of auto negotiations,” the UAW said in a statement.
Jones was not charged by federal prosecutors in the “Information” filed in federal court in Detroit, which said that some of the money “was converted to cash to further fuel the lavish lifestyles to which they had apparently become accustomed.”
In the information filed in federal court, prosecutors said at several instances Robinson used his position as the custodian of UAW’s political fund for the western part of the United States to submit phony invoices for hotel and other expenses.
The bills submitted by Robinson had already been covered by other union funds and Robinson split the illicit re-imbursements that he collected with an official only identified as “UAW official A.”
Federal prosecutors supervising the sprawling investigation, which has now led to 11 convictions, including seven UAW offices and staff members, three executives from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the widow of a former UAW official, who died in 2015 just as the investigation was beginning.
However, other court documents filed in connection with the charges against another of Jones’ aides, Vance Pearson, federal prosecutors said FBI agents found $30,000 in cash and other property, such as expensive liquor and golf equipment, linked to illicit payments from the UAW Treasury in the garage of Jones’ home in Canton Township, Michigan, during a raid in August.
In the explanation of the charges filed Thursday, federal prosecutors said that Robinson met with Pearson and “UAW official A” to discuss a job for one of Robinson’s relatives.
They also talked about the need to use “burner” phones to evade the federal government electronic surveillance. During the meeting this spring, they also discussed the need to destroy some records, noting investigators uncovered information incriminating information against UAW vice president Norwood Jewell, who pleaded guilty to federal charges in August and is set to report to prison in January.
Pearson, who last year replaced Jones’ as director of UAW Region 5, which covers 17 states in the western U.S., took what was described as a “leave of absence” from the UAW’s executive board, pending the outcome of the legal case against him.
Meanwhile, there is growing support on the UAW’s executive board to force Jones to either take a leave of absence, pending the outcome of the various legal cases, or resign outright, sources have told TheDetroitBureau.
Speculation among analysts is that federal prosecutors have held off actually charging Jones, pending the completion of the negotiations with Detroit’s automakers because they don’t want to be seen as intervening in the bargaining process.
Jones has kept a low profile during the UAW strike against General Motors and finalizing a pending agreement with Ford Motor Co., which is expected to mirror the agreement with GM. The ratification bonus with Ford is lower than the one at GM, $9,000 vs. $11,000, saving Ford more than $100 million and the deal tentatively clears the way for Ford to clear the way for shutting an engine plant in Romeo.
The UAW also must negotiate a new contract with FCA and FCA CEO Mike Manley told analyst this week he hoped he could negotiate changes to the “pattern” agreement negotiated at GM after a 40-day strike.