Feds want 2-year sentence for ex-UAW President Williams

Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Business News

Dennis Williams led a double life as president of the UAW, and the stain the ex-labor leader left on the union as part of the corruption scandal will burden its members for years to come, according to federal prosecutors.

In a sentencing memo Monday, prosecutors asked that Williams, of Corona, California, receive a two-year prison sentence and pay a "substantial fine" for taking advantage of his position when he should have been looking out for the members. Instead, he and other top union officials embezzled thousands of dollars for fancy meals, booze, cigars and other goodies, they said.

"(Williams) told his fellow union members that 'CEOs and board members and Wall Street' 'didn’t have a problem getting theirs' so 'we' should 'not feel bad about getting ours.' ... But he was corrupted by the power. Williams ignored his responsibility to act on behalf of the hard-working men and women of the UAW. The 'we' that he helped 'get theirs' were the top-level officials, including himself," the memo said.

Williams, who pleaded guilty in September to a charge of conspiracy to embezzle union funds, is scheduled for sentencing via Zoom in U.S. District Court in Detroit on May 11, a proceeding, like many others in the scandal, that has been delayed numerous times because of the pandemic.

Williams is one of 15 people, including former top UAW officials and ex-Fiat Chrysler Automobiles executives, who have been convicted in the scandal involving embezzlement, kickbacks, bribes and misuse of worker training funds. The criminal investigation into the union wrapped up late last year when prosecutors and the UAW announced an agreement that calls for the appointment of an independent monitor and for a referendum election on how top union leaders will be picked in the future.

In September, Williams, who joined the union as a welder in Rock Island, Illinois, in 1977, painted a picture of himself as someone who simply chose not to do the right thing when he should have. Williams had said he asked Gary Jones, his successor as president who was then head of the union's Region 5 and is himself awaiting sentencing in the scandal, twice how he was paying for union conference expenses but did not press the matter after being told things were done properly.

"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 (later) as president I could have investigated into the source of these funds or directed my staff to do so. It was within my power and it was my duty as a UAW officer to do so, but I deliberately looked away," Williams told Judge Paul Borman as he was pleading guilty.


Prosecutors, however, painted a more sinister picture, of someone who actively took part in wrongdoing. For instance, Williams extended his stays for union conferences in Palm Springs, California, at his swanky private villa well beyond the few days of the actual conference.

"At the 2015 conference, which was during his first year as UAW president, Williams stayed in Palm Springs for 37 days. Then he stayed 105 days in 2016, 121 days in 2017, and 71 days in 2018. Williams also invited guests, who stayed in their own villas. And the cost was substantial. For the 2017 conference, for example, the UAW paid $20,000, just for Williams’s accommodations."

Williams and others also racked up big bills at other times, including $6,500 at a steakhouse for a New Year's Eve event.

The memo also references other issues including the "lavish, million-dollar lakefront 'Cabin'" at the UAW Walter and May Reuther Family Education Center at Black Lake in northern Michigan that was designed for Williams. The conference center is subsidized by interest from the union's strike fund.

And the memo called out Williams for pushing to use worker training center funds, rather than UAW funds, to pay for union employees. These "chargebacks," which were paid by the automakers, amounted to more than $300 million even though many were improper "because the UAW employee was working less than full time at the training center, or sometimes not at all," the memo said.

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