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Former UAW President Dennis Williams charged with conspiracy to embezzle

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne and UAW President Dennis Williams

The U.S. Department of Justice has charged former United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams with conspiracy to embezzle union funds.

Williams is accused of using union money to pay for long stays in a villa in California for himself and his friends, along with expensive cigars, meals, and liquor. Justice officials say Williams submitted false vouchers to cover up the graft.

Williams is the 15th person to be charged so far in an FBI investigation into corruption in leadership ranks of the union. The investigation began two years ago with charges against two Fiat Chrysler executives; one who pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns on behalf of UAW leaders, and the other who pleaded guilty to bribing union officials in order to try to influence contract negotiations.

The investigation later uncovered a pattern of high-ranking union officials dipping into union funds to enrich themselves and pay for lavish lifestyles, as is allegedly the case with Williams and his successor, UAW President Gary Jones.

Harley Shaiken is a labor expert at the University of California-Berkley. 

"The depth of the scandal has been deep, it has been damaging, and it has angered many members," says Shaiken.

But he believes the current leadership, including President Rory Gamble, is taking proper steps to eliminate the graft, and restore the union's reputation for being a cleanly run organization.

Gamble is negotiating with Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider on whether the government should appoint an independent monitor - in lieu of a takeover.

Shaiken says a full-scale federal takeover of the union would be a disastrous move, and one that could be viewed as politically motivated given the presidential election in November. He says the corruption in this case, while reprehensible, is not the same seriousness as the corruption that resulted in a federal takeover of the Teamsters union in 1989, when the union was controlled by mob bosses.

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Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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