Feds charge former UAW VP Ashton

November 06, 2019 10:41 AM UPDATED 20 HOURS AGO
Feds charge former UAW VP Ashton in widening corruption probe
MICHAEL MARTINEZ

Ashton
BLOOMBERG
Ashton resigned from the GM board in 2017.

DETROIT — Federal prosecutors have charged Joe Ashton, who headed the UAW’s 2011 negotiations with General Motors and was on GM’s board for three years, with money laundering and wire fraud.

Ashton, who retired from the UAW in 2014, is the 13th person charged in the corruption scandal involving misuse of union funds. UAW President Gary Jones, reportedly implicated in the probe, began a paid leave of absence on Sunday but has not been charged with a crime. Rory Gamble, the UAW’s vice president overseeing the Ford department, was named interim president.

According to prosecutors, Ashton “conspired with Michael Grimes and Jeffery Pietrzyk to devise a scheme to defraud” UAW members and the jointly run UAW-GM Center for Human Resources. Pietrzyk and Grimes have pleaded guilty to charges related to the scandal, and the union and GM agreed in their recently-ratified contract to shut down the Center for Human Resources and sell the building, while restructuring its training center activities.

Prosecutors say that, between 2012-2016, Ashton, Grimes and Pietrzyk used their positions “to personally enrich themselves by deceptively soliciting, influencing and obtaining a contract” for an unnamed vendor to provide watches to the union, and in turn accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.

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Ashton first implicated
The charges alleges that Ashton approached the vendor in late 2016 and told them payments must stop because of the investigation into the UAW-Fiat Chrysler department.

The Detroit News in August reported that Ashton was one of the unidentified union officials described in charging documents against Grimes as participating in the conspiracy. Grimes pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering charges in September.

Ashton resigned from the GM board in 2017 as suspicions that he was involved in the corruption scheme arose.

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Ashton was charged Wednesday in a criminal information, which indicates a guilty plea is likely. Ashton’s attorney, Jerome Ballarotto of Trenton, N.J., could not be immediately reached for comment.

UAW ScandalUAW Scandal timeline and key figures: In charges filed since July 2017, federal prosecutors have revealed that millions of dollars intended to train workers was instead spent by some UAW leaders on assorted luxuries. The charges have exposed fraud within the massive U.S. auto manufacturing union. Will this scandal spread? HERE IS A TIMELINE AND OUR LIST OF KEY PLAYERS.
GM, UAW respond
“GM is deeply disturbed by Joe Ashton’s alleged criminal conduct,” the automaker said in an emailed statement. “GM was not aware of this illegal activity until it was recently revealed by the government’s investigation, or that he allegedly continued to benefit from this conduct after the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust (VEBA) appointed him to the GM Board, a position he resigned in December 2017.”

Gamble, in a statement, said: “Joe Ashton’s actions, as set forth in the government’s filings, are completely inexcusable and violate the UAW’s long-standing standards of conduct put in place by former leaders like Walter Reuther. The UAW remains focused on negotiating and finalizing strong contracts for our members, especially during this round of auto negotiations.”

The UAW rank-and-file is voting on a tentative contract with Ford Motor Co. If ratified, the union would then begin final contract negotiations with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

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