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Former auto union VP charged in corruption probe

Published:Tuesday | March 19, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Jeep vehicles are parked outside Fiat Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit, February 26, 2019.

A former vice-president at the United Auto Workers was charged on Monday with conspiracy in a scheme with Fiat Chrysler executives to buy meals, golf, and other perks with the automaker’s money – the highest-ranking official snagged in an investigation that has exposed corrupt ties between labour and management.

The conspiracy charge against Norwood Jewell was filed as a criminal information, which means a guilty plea is likely. At least seven people have pleaded guilty so far.

Officials at Fiat Chrysler, known as FCA, and the UAW enriched themselves by using company money set aside for a job-training centre. The corruption occurred at the same time both sides were negotiating labour agreements.

“We can confirm that we have had professional and productive discussions with the US Attorney’s Office towards a fair and just resolution,” defence attorney Michael Manley told The Detroit News. “We are confident that when the facts of the case come out as it relates to Mr Jewell, his decades-long reputation of honourable service to members of the UAW will remain intact.”

Jewell was the senior UAW official dealing with Fiat Chrysler from 2014 through 2016. He apparently had no knowledge of corruption that was occurring before stepping into the post – his predecessor had a US$262,000 mortgage paid off – but he quickly joined it, according to the government.

The court filing says that Jewell signed off on dinners valued at thousands of dollars at an exclusive Detroit restaurant, the London Chop House, and golf and meals in Palm Springs, California.

Former Fiat Chrysler executive Al Iacobelli, who conspired with UAW officials and also enjoyed the spoils, is serving a five and a half-year prison sentence .

The union’s president, Gary Jones, said he is “deeply saddened and irritated” by the scandal.

The UAW is “engaged in comprehensive reforms to make sure that this behaviour never happens again”, Jones said last week.