DETROIT – Federal prosecutors have charged retired United Auto Workers Vice President Joseph Ashton, a former board member of General Motors, as part of its corruption probe into the union.
Ashton, who resigned from the GM board in December 2017 after reportedly being linked to the investigation, was charged with fraud and money laundering conspiracies. Money laundering is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, while the fraud charge could be up to 20 years.
Ashton was charged Wednesday in a criminal information filing, which indicates a guilty plea is expected. His attorney, Jerry Ballarotto of New Jersey, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
GM, in an emailed statement, said it "was not aware of this illegal activity until it was recently revealed by the government's investigation." Nor was the company aware that "he allegedly continued to benefit from this conduct" while a member of the board, it said.
Federal prosecutors accuse Ashton, who retired from the UAW in 2014, of demanding and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks and improperly using his position to illegally benefit himself and others.
The allegations outlined in the filing center on Ashton's position overseeing a jointly operated training center with GM known as the Center for Human Resources, which the company recently announced plans to dissolve as part of its new labor agreement with the union.
An alleged scheme identified by federal prosecutors involved a nearly $4 million contract with the training facility for commemorative watches. According to the filing, Ashton demanded $250,000 from the vendor, which he had instructed to create a new company to produce the watches, which were never distributed to members.
UAW Vice President Rory Gamble, acting president of the union, said in an emailed statement that the allegations "are completely inexcusable and violate UAW's long-standing standards of conduct put in place by former leaders like Walter Reuther."
Ashton, who was the first UAW leader on the GM board, is the 13th person charged as part of the probe, including 10 officials affiliated with the union and three Fiat Chrysler executives. Ten people have been convicted thus far, including two union officials who admitted to assisting Ashton.