Former United Auto Workers (UAW) vice president Joseph Ashton was charged on Wednesday with conspiracy to commit money laundering and wire fraud, the latest charges resulting from a sprawling federal corruption probe into the union.
Ashton was a board member at General Motors until 2017, when he left due to the federal investigation. Federal authorities have been looking into accusations that senior Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and UAW officials were embezzling company and union funds.
Ashton received “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks” along with other union officials, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will attempt to force Ashton to forfeit $250,000.
Federal prosecutors claim Ashton and other union officials obtain 58,000 watches from a vendor by providing an inflated $4 million contract. The officials intended to distribute the watches to UAW members, but as of now they are still sitting in storage in Detroit.
Ashton’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. GM denied knowledge of Ashton’s alleged activities.
GM is “deeply disturbed by Joe Ashton’s alleged criminal conduct,” read a statement from the company. “GM was not aware of this illegal activity until it was recently revealed by the government’s investigation.”
Acting UAW President Rory Gamble said Ashton’s alleged actions “are completely inexcusable and violate UAW’s long-standing standards of conduct.
“The UAW remains focused on negotiating and finalizing strong contracts for our members, especially during this round of auto negotiations,” Gamble continued.
UAW President Gary Jones, who took a paid leave of absence on Sunday, has also been tied to the corruption probe. FBI and IRS agents searched Jones’s home in August as part of their investigation.
Ten people to date have pleaded guilty in connection with illegal payoffs by Fiat Chrysler to the UAW.
UAW workers recently conducted a weeks-long strike after contract negotiations between the union and GM management failed.