Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Former UAW official Vance Pearson to plead guilty in corruption probe

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A former UAW official who resigned his regional leadership post amid federal charges and a union effort to oust him is expected to plead guilty in the corruption scandal.

Vance Pearson led the 17-state Region 5, which stretches from Missouri to California, before his resignation in November. The union is now planning to abolish the region and merge its locals with two other regions in February.

Pearson and other union officials, including ex-UAW Presidents Dennis Williams and Gary Jones, are accused of embezzling more than $1.5 million. Williams and Jones have not been named or charged but have been implicated in previous filings and identified to the Free Press by a source.

A federal court filing Monday accuses Pearson of participating in bogus reporting on tens of thousands of dollars in golfing items and cigars related to UAW conferences. Those expenses were either simply concealed or reported as meals, the documents allege.

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Pearson of St. Charles, Missouri, had previously faced six federal charges accusing him of embezzling union money, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. The new paperwork was filed as an information, meaning Pearson is expected to plead guilty, and supersedes the previous complaint.

The new filing charges Pearson with conspiracy to embezzle union funds and to use a facility of interstate commerce to aid a racketeering enterprise. Pearson, who is free on a $10,000 unsecured bond, had been scheduled for a preliminary examination Monday before the new filing. It’s not clear when Pearson will next appear in court.

Attorney Scott Rosenblum has previously declined to talk about the charges, but he did discuss how his client was doing, following a court appearance in November.

“He’s lost 20 pounds. He’s upset. It’s never a good day when the FBI knocks on your door,” Rosenblum said at the time.

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The use of the term “racketeering enterprise” in the filing would appear to have implications for the union, which has been under intense pressure and scrutiny as charges and guilty pleas in the years-long scandal have mounted. UAW President Rory Gamble has pledged reforms, but U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider has sought more cooperation from the union and has left open the possibility of some future government role.

In early December, Schneider said it was premature to talk about specifics, but he said all options, apparently including a consent decree, are on the table.

The scandal does not just involve the UAW, however. The one-time lead labor negotiator for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Alphons Iacobelli, was one of the first people indicted, and the allegations brought to light as part of the investigation are at the center of a lawsuit General Motors filed against FCA, accusing the company of corrupting bargaining for years. FCA has called that suit meritless and an effort to deflect attention from GM’s own challenges.

The UAW issued a new statement about Pearson on Monday:

“Make no mistake about it. If Vance Pearson misused union funds to buy personal items for himself and others, and then lied about and hid that conduct from the UAW, he blatantly violated his oath of office and betrayed the trust of all our hard-working members. In November 2019, the UAW International Executive Board filed its own action against Mr. Pearson not just to remove him from his elected position, but taking away his membership in the UAW entirely. While our union is moving forward, we will never forget the costly lessons from our past. Under the leadership of President Rory Gamble, working tirelessly with the board, the UAW continues to implement 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.”

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