Feds charge former UAW vice president with money laundering and bribery
07 Nov 2019

Joe Ashton, a former vice president of the United Automobile Workers Union, has been charged with bribery and money laundering, according to court documents filed Wednesday. The now-retired Ashton is the 13th person charged in connection with the corruption scandal, and also the highest ranking.

The move by federal authorities comes just days after UAW President Gary Jones stepped aside temporarily as he also comes under scrutiny.

The scandal has tainted a union long seen as one of the cleanest in the American labor movement. And recent events have cast a cloud over ongoing contract negotiations between the UAW and Detroit’s Big Three since some officials reportedly took bribes to back off on demands during prior contract talks.

Over the last two years, an array of union officials, as well as some executives from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and General Motors, have been charged with a variety of crimes involving kickbacks, fraud and money laundering.

Ashton was reportedly under the federal microscope for some time. His top aide, Jeff Pietrzyk, already pleaded guilty to his role in the case. The case laid out by federal prosecutors involves a variety of shady deals, including the production of $4 million worth of commemorative UAW watches. All told, he reportedly helped direct $15.8 million worth of union contracts for his personal benefit.

Ashton, who stepped down from his union post in 2014, was closely associated with other top UAW officials, including former president Dennis Williams and his successor. Those two were among a number of current and former union officials who were targeted in an FBI raid of their homes searching for additional evidence of corruption.

While neither Williams nor Jones have been charged, local news reports have speculated as to if and when they also could face indictments.

For his part, the current UAW chief announced over the weekend that he would take a paid leave of absence while the corruption probe continues. That move came as union members at Ford were set to begin voting on a new, four-year tentative contract with the automaker. Once that settlement is wrapped up, UAW bargainers will move over to Fiat Chrysler to push for an agreement there.

By Paul A. Eisenstein, NBC News, 6 November 2019

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