Former UAW official pleads guilty in U.S. corruption case

DETROIT (Reuters) - A former top United Auto Workers official in charge of the union’s relations with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) pleaded guilty on Tuesday in a U.S. federal court in Detroit to misusing the automaker’s funds for lavish spending on UAW officials.

FILE PHOTO: UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell addresses their Special Bargaining Convention held at COBO Hall in Detroit, Michigan March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Jeff Kowalsky/File Photo

As part of a plea agreement, Norwood Jewell, who headed the UAW’s FCA department from 2014 until his retirement in January 2018, pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiring to violate the Labor Relations Management Act, which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Jewell is the highest-ranking former UAW official charged so far in a wide-ranging investigation into illegal payoffs to UAW officials by FCA. To date, seven people linked to the union and the automaker have been sentenced in the government’s corruption investigation.

Jewell’s court appearance comes at a sensitive time for the UAW, which faces contract talks later this year with FCA, General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co.

Prosecutors say FCA officials conspired to divert to UAW officials more than $4.5 million in training center funds intended to pay for training for union members.

Both the UAW and FCA have repeatedly said that only a few individuals were involved and that this did not affect contract talks between the two in 2015.

Dressed in a black suit, charcoal gray shirt and a black-and-blue striped tie, Jewell told the court he failed to properly apportion funds between his two roles at the UAW and the National Training Center funded by the FCA to train workers.

“I own up to what I did and I am taking responsibility for my actions,” Jewell said.

Prosecutors have recommended a sentence of 12 months to 18 months.

According to court documents, Jewell used the FCA’s National Training Center credit card and approved the use of the credit cards by other UAW officials to make more than $40,000 worth of charges for items such as travel and meals.

Defense attorney Michael Manley told reporters the corrupt practices preceded Jewell’s appointment in 2014, that he had worked to halt those practices and “that he did not take anything for personal gain.”

“My hope is that he will not go to jail,” Manley said.

Reporting By Nick Carey; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall