Auto industry figures face reckoning, prison in federal court

Auto industry figures face reckoning, prison in federal court
Robert Snell, The Detroit News Published 9:55 a.m. ET Nov. 7, 2018 | Updated 11:22 a.m. ET Nov. 7, 2018

Detroit — Two auto industry leaders were sentenced to a year in federal prison Wednesday for their roles in a conspiracy involving Fiat Chrysler Automobiles executives funneling illegal payments to union leaders.

The sentences illustrated the value of cooperating with the government because Fiat Chrysler labor executive Michael Brown and Keith Mickens, the former right-hand man of UAW Vice President General Holiefield, have helped prosecutors bag additional alleged co-conspirators and are helping unravel the conspiracy.

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman sentenced the duo to one year and a day, a fraction of the time both could have served in prison. They won’t have to report to prison until May and could receive lesser sentences because they continue to cooperate with investigators, who are now investigating Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co.

Brown, a former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles executive who helped run the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center, was sentenced for helping cover up the conspiracy.

Brown, 61, of West Bloomfield Township, the automaker’s former director of labor relations, deliberately provided misleading and incomplete testimony during the grand jury investigation, enabling the conspiracy to continue for years.

Michael Brown
Michael Brown (Photo: UAW-Chrysler National Training Center)

“He covered up everything,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin Shaw told U.S. District Judge Paul Borman.

Brown, dressed in a black suit, stared straight ahead as the prosecutor contradicted letters from the disgraced auto executive’s supporters and defense lawyer who portrayed Brown as a “straight arrow,” loyal to a fault.

That straight arrow provided misleading testimony to a federal grand jury in December 2015, Shaw said.

“In a moment in life when Brown most needed to be a straight arrow,” Shaw said, “he wasn’t.”

Brown asked the judge to render a “just decision” but did not apologize or explain his crime.

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After being sentenced, Brown greeted a dozen supporters in the courtroom with hugs, grins and a giggle.

Shaw referenced at least three unindicted co-conspirators. One who was easily identifiable is former UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell, who retired after his home was raided by investigators.

Jewell was the guest of honor at a party paid for with more than $30,000 worth of training center funds that featured “ultra-premium” liquor and strolling models who lit labor leaders’ cigars.

Mickens, 65, of Clarkston, was sentenced to seven months after the former UAW official struck a plea deal with prosecutors.

He admitted buying more than $7,000 worth of personal items with money from Fiat Chrysler that was supposed to help train blue-collar workers and used more money to help Holiefield buy a pool.

In all, Mickens approved more than $700,000 in illegal payments from Fiat Chrysler to Holiefield and Holiefield’s wife Monica Morgan, part of a broader plan by the automaker to keep labor leaders “fat, dumb and happy,” according to the government.

Prosecutors wanted Mickens, who was paid $127,569, to spend 16 months in federal prison though his sentencing guidelines could have resulted in a 27-month prison sentence. His lawyer pushed for probation.

“I’ve done wrong, I broke the law and I’m deeply ashamed of my actions,” Mickens told the judge. “I have no one to blame but myself and will regret his for the rest of my life.

“I helped undermine and stigmatize an institution I spent my life trying to build.”

And he betrayed the trust of rank-and-file union members, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gardey told the judge, noting that UAW members often refer to themselves as brothers and sisters.

“It was that responsibility, the trust placed in him by his brothers and sisters that he breached,” Gardey said.

Later today, former Fiat Chrysler financial analyst Jerome Durden could be sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. Prosecutors want to delay the start of his sentence to he can keep assisting with the ongoing investigation and possibly secure a lesser sentence.

2017-0804-jg-Durden-02Buy Photo
Jerome Durden, 61, of Rochester stood mute in federal court on charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.S., which carries up to five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. (Photo: John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)

Durden, 62, of Rochester, who served as controller of the training center, filed misleading tax returns that concealed the labor conspiracy.

“During Durden’s tenure … FCA and its executives gave millions of dollars to UAW officials and the union itself in order to buy labor peace,” Shaw wrote.

He also served as treasurer of Holiefield’s sham charity, the Leave the Light On Foundation.

During a six-year period, the National Training Center funneled more than $386,400 to the charity.

The three are among seven people convicted so far in a broad conspiracy that has caused upheaval at the top ranks of the auto industry and raised questions about the sanctity of labor negotiations.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

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