Ex-UAW President Williams pleads guilty to embezzlement

DETROIT — The past two leaders of the UAW are now admitted felons.

Dennis Williams, who served as the union’s president from 2014 to 2018, pleaded guilty Wednesday to embezzling money from the members he once led. Appearing in U.S. District Court by videoconference wearing a dark suit and dark tie, Williams admitted wrongdoing and apologized for his actions.

“As an officer of the UAW, I held a position of trust,” Williams said. “I know my actions and failures to act abused that trust. It hurt the union I loved. I’m here now to take full responsibility.”

His admission comes almost four months after his successor, Gary Jones, pleaded guilty to similar charges as part of a yearslong federal corruption probe.

Prosecutors last month charged Williams, 67, with conspiring to embezzle funds from rank-and-file workers for nearly a decade.

Court documents say Williams and others spent hundreds of thousands of member dollars on trips to Palm Springs, Calif., golf outings, fancy dinners and other luxuries.

“I had an idea there was something wrong, and I ignored it and turned my head, and it happened,” Williams said.

He faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $ 250,000, although he’ll likely receive a sentence between 18 and 24 months as part of his plea agreement. There was no agreement on a fine.

Williams was arraigned by video earlier in the day and agreed to surrender his passport and restrict his travel to the continental U.S. During his guilty plea, it was noted he owed more than $ 15,000 in taxes to the IRS.

Federal officials last year raided the homes of Jones, Williams and other UAW officials. Williams was handcuffed and held at gunpoint as agents searched his California home, according to The Detroit News.

As part of his guilty plea, Williams has agreed to forfeit a custom-made set of Titleist golf clubs, golf clothing and equipment seized during the raid on his home.

Prosecutors say Williams racked up tens of thousands of dollars staying at a villa in Palm Springs months at a time and paid for with UAW funds. He also allegedly accepted a portion of $ 6,000 in golf certificates, given out by Jones and paid for with UAW money. The feds also say he accepted a portion of cigars ordered by Jones.

Despite his admission of guilt, Williams in a prewritten statement tried to place blame on Jones, painting himself as a concerned officer who ultimately did not act on his own suspicions of wrongdoing.

“In 2017 I did ask Gary Jones how he was paying for all those Region 5 conference expenses,” Williams said. “He simply told me everything was above board. I made a deliberate and conscious decision not to press the matter even though I strongly suspected that if I looked into how Gary Jones was funding these benefits, I would find union funds were being misused. As Secretary-Treasurer and as president, I could have investigated into the source of these funds or directed my staff to do so. I was within my power and it was my duty as a UAW officer to do so. But I deliberately looked away.”

He apologized to the court, his family and the union.

 “I appreciate the hard work the government has done to root out corruption in our union. I hope by accepting responsibility for my actions and for my failures, this process might help restore the faith in our union so it may continue to fight on behalf of working men and women in our country who need it so badly today.”

The UAW, in a statement, said Williams “put his personal and self-interest above” the members of the UAW.

“These serious charges deserve serious legal consequences as they violate the oath of UAW officers and they violate the trust of UAW officers to handle our members’ sacred dues money,” the statement said. “The UAW — under the leadership of current UAW President Rory L. Gamble and our International Executive Board — continues to focus on strengthening and implementing new financial and ethical policies and controls. The UAW continues to have proactive discussions with the U.S. Attorney’s Office as we continue to build a stronger and more ethically sound union.”

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, who is leading the corruption investigation, said in a statement that Williams “has accepted responsibility for his conduct and, in that way, has contributed to our efforts with the union’s current leadership towards reforming the UAW to better serve its members and their families. Today’s conviction demonstrates that we will continue our drive forward to provide ethical and honest leadership for the UAW’s membership.”

The union noted that Williams resigned from the UAW on Sept. 18 after it demanded he do so.

The UAW this year said it would stop paying Williams’ legal fees related to the corruption probe and in June said he had paid back more than $ 50,000 in travel expenses deemed “not appropriate.”

The union has also sold a northern Michigan cottage built for Williams partly with nonunion labor.

Williams will be sentenced Jan. 25.

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