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Second ex-United Auto Workers president charged with embezzling union funds

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Key Points
  • Former UAW President Dennis Williams was charged with embezzlement and defrauding the U.S. government as part of a multiyear corruption probe into the union.
  • Williams, who led the organization from 2014 to 2018, is the second UAW president to be charged.
  • Federal prosecutors say Williams and at least six other senior UAW officials conspired to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenditures.
President Donald Trump talks with auto industry leaders, including General Motors CEO Mary Barra (L) and United Auto Workers (UAW) President Dennis Williams (R) at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan, U.S. March 15, 2017.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

DETROIT — Former United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams was charged with embezzlement and defrauding the U.S. government as part of a multiyear corruption probe into one of America's most prominent unions.

Williams, who led the organization from 2014 to 2018, is the second ex-president of the union to be charged. His successor, Gary Jones, pleaded guilty in June to racketeering and embezzlement of union funds.

Federal prosecutors say Williams and at least six other senior UAW officials conspired to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars in lavish entertainment such as golf trips and high-end dinners in the cost of UAW conferences.

The charges against Williams, 67, were unsealed Thursday as part of a criminal information. Criminal information documents are routinely used to charge people who intend to plead guilty. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

The documents showed that prosecutors identified three other unnamed co-conspirators, suggesting that more union officials could be charged.

The homes of Jones, Williams and other union officials were raided a year ago as part of the investigation, which was made public in July 2017.

FBI agents finish loading materials into a truck out of the home of United Auto Workers President Gary Jones on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
Michael Wayland / CNBC

Williams is the 15th person to be charged with wrongdoing as part of the investigation. So far, 10 UAW officials, one person affiliated with the union and three executives with Fiat Chrysler have pleaded guilty. 

When the federal investigation was made public three years ago, it focused on a jointly operated training center between the UAW and Fiat Chrysler. But it quickly expanded to probes into similar operations with General Motors and Ford Motor, which have confirmed they were cooperating with the investigation.

The probe widened to look at top union leaders embezzling union funds, money laundering and other illegal activities.

UAW President Rory Gamble, who succeeded Jones, has denied all wrongdoing. In June, he met with U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider about reforming the union, including possibly using an independent monitor.

United Auto Workers (UAW) acting president Rory Gamble speaks to Reuters from his office in Southfield, Michigan, November 6, 2019.
Rebecca Cook | Reuters

Williams' attorney, Sean Berkowitz, did not immediately respond for comment. The U.S. Attorney's Office also did not immediately respond for comment.

The UAW, in a statement, said Williams should face criminal penalty for any and all violations he may have committed while an officer of the union.

"Today's development is a sad day for UAW members," the union said. "But it is also a humbling day of truth and justice demonstrating that no one is above the law, regardless of their position."