Friday, October 30, 2020

Former UAW official to cooperate with investigators in corruption scandal

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A former UAW official who had been asked to take the rap for an embezzlement scheme tied to the union’s ex-president, according to federal court papers and a source, will instead be cooperating with the corruption investigation.

Edward (Nick) Robinson, who had been an aide to disgraced former UAW President Gary Jones and a union official himself, pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit to conspiracy to embezzle union funds and to defraud the United States.

Each charge carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for a conviction, although the guidelines call for a 30-37-month sentence, and both sides have agreed to recommend a lesser sentence because of an undisclosed health issue. Robinson is scheduled to return for sentencing on June 30.

Robinson, 72, is free on a $10,000 unsecured bond. As a condition of his release, Robinson, a lifelong St. Louis-area resident, is not allowed any employment related to the UAW.

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During his plea hearing Monday, Robinson described his role in the almost decade-long scheme, saying, “We sometimes got reimbursed for expenses that were not appropriate” and that he would share the funds with other UAW officials. He also admitted not including the embezzled funds on his tax returns, and he owes $42,000 in restitution to the IRS.

The misappropriated funds were used for cigars, private villas, high-end liquor, meals, golfing apparel, golf clubs and green fees, according to the plea agreement.

Robinson was charged in an information in October, accused of being part of a group of senior UAW officials who embezzled more than $1 million, and had been expected to plead guilty. The plea agreement said Jones, identified to the Free Press by a source as UAW Official A, told Robinson he would give one of his relative’s a sham job in order to “take care of” the relative if Robinson took sole responsibility for a portion of the embezzlement.

Instead, Robinson will be cooperating with prosecutors.

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“He’s working very hard to rectify the wrongs he’s (done), and we’re well on our way there,” Robinson’s attorney, James Martin, said after Monday’s hearing.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider indicated in a news release that the case will continue for some time.

“Our office will never tolerate the abuse of union funds for the benefit of corrupt union officials,” Schneider said. “We will continue our work until the men and women of the UAW have confidence that their union leadership is serving and advancing their interests — instead of the personal interests of union bosses.”

Steven D’Antuono, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office, said in the release that the scandal has had a significant impact on the union’s membership.

“It is hard to discuss the criminal behavior of these UAW executives without acknowledging the damage it has done to the faith union members have in their leadership,” D’Antuono said. “The FBI stands committed to these types of investigations in order to restore the union to its core purpose of negotiating for and protecting the rights of its hard-working members who put their trust in their union officials.”

Robinson was based in the same office, UAW Region 5 in Missouri, that Jones once led. The pieces of Region 5, which incorporated 17 states from Missouri to California, have now been absorbed into two other regions, an apparent reaction to the scandal.

Thirteen people have pleaded guilty since the scandal burst into public view in 2017 with the indictments of Alphons Iacobelli, onetime lead labor negotiator for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and Monica Morgan, the widow of the late General Holiefield, who had been a UAW vice president.

The investigation, which is ongoing, has exposed self-dealing among former UAW and FCA officials involving expensive meals, trips, a Ferrari, mortgages, jewelry and more, and raised the possibility of federal oversight of a union once known for its clean image.

The UAW issued a statement after Robinson’s appearance:

“Nick Robinson violated his oath of office and betrayed the trust of our hard-working members. Currently, under the leadership of President Rory L. Gamble, the UAW has begun implementing a series of critical reforms necessary to strengthen the union’s financial controls, oversight and its overall accounting system so this type of conduct cannot happen again. As President Gamble, the International Executive Board and UAW continue to aggressively enact these critical reforms to protect the union’s members, we will never forget the costly lessons of the selfish actions of a few.”

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