DETROIT - Former United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams pleaded guilty Wednesday to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the union, giving federal prosecutors a second landmark conviction in a years-long crackdown on auto industry corruption.
Williams, 67, of Corona, Calif., pleaded guilty nearly four months after Gary Jones, his successor, admitted to helping steal more than $1 million from rank-and-file workers. They are the highest-ranking union leaders convicted in a corruption scandal that has pushed one of the nation's most powerful unions to the brink of federal takeover.
Williams, who resigned his membership Sept. 18, is the 15th person convicted of a crime following an investigation that has revealed labor leaders and auto executives broke federal labor laws, stole union funds and received bribes and illegal benefits from union contractors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV executives.
Williams, who pleaded guilty Wednesday while appearing in a videoconference from an undisclosed location, portrayed himself as willfully ignorant about how Jones paid for regional conferences in Palm Springs, California, during a conspiracy that lasted from 2010-19.
A stone-faced Williams, dressed in a black suit, black tie and white shirt, participated in the videoconference from an undisclosed location due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has temporarily closed federal court.
"Do you want to plead guilty today?" U.S. District Judge Paul Borman asked Williams.
"Yes, your honor," Williams responded.
He was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond, and sentencing was set for Jan. 25.
"It was a little less contrite than I would have expected with him pointing the finger at others," said Scott Houldieson, a Ford Motor Co. electrician at Chicago assembly plant. "It's a betrayal of the membership that's been covered up for quite some time now."
The plea hearing marked a rare public appearance for Williams and revealed a rift between the two former presidents and shifting blame for the corruption scandal.