Former UAW official pleads guilty in corruption probe

DETROIT (Reuters) - A former United Auto Workers official who served on the union committee that negotiated a 2015 labor pact with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV pleaded guilty on Monday to conspiring to make illegal payments to union officials, prosecutors said.

The case is part of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into alleged misspending at UAW training centers. Nancy Johnson, 57, of Macomb, Michigan, was the seventh defendant to plead guilty in connection with the probe.

“Today’s conviction of yet another senior UAW official further exposes the dishonorable scheme between UAW officials and Fiat Chrysler executives to corrupt the collective bargaining process,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said in a statement.

Johnson pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate labor laws by accepting and arranging for illegal payments from Fiat Chrysler executives to high-level UAW officials from 2014 through 2016, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Michigan.

“Ms. Johnson took responsibility for her conduct,” her attorney, Harold Gurewitz, said by telephone.

During the plea hearing on Monday, Johnson admitted to participating in a conspiracy that existed from at least 2009 where company and union officials funneled money and items of value including personal travel, golf resort fees, lavish meals and parties, designer clothing and an Italian shotgun to UAW officials and the union, prosecutors said.

The illegal spending was also a way to help ease the pressure on a strained union budget, prosecutors said.

The union in a statement called the misconduct by Johnson and others “disturbing” and said it had taken strong measures to prevent a repeat of such actions.

The UAW also reaffirmed that Johnson’s misconduct did not affect any collective bargaining agreements, which it said pass through many layers of review including a ratification vote by members.

Fiat Chrysler (FCA) declined to comment but said previously it and the union were victims of malfeasance by their respective employees.

Johnson, who served as the second most senior UAW official responsible for the union’s FCA department from 2014 to 2016, was removed from the union in July 2016.

Alphons Iacobelli, a former vice president of employee relations at Fiat Chrysler, pleaded guilty in January to making at least $1.5 million in improper payments to UAW officials.

In February, the widow of former UAW Vice President General Holiefield, the union official at the center of the probe, pleaded guilty to tax fraud in relation to the case. Holiefield died in March 2015.

Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Peter Cooney