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Director of UAW Region 5, successor to union chief Jones, charged in corruption probe

Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

DETROIT – The current director of the UAW region covering 17 states from Missouri to California has been arrested and charged in the federal government's ongoing corruption investigation of the union, which has now spread well beyond allegations that worker training funds were misused.

Vance Pearson, 58, of St. Charles, Missouri, faces six charges that accuse him of embezzlement of union money, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. The allegations against Pearson involve the regional office that was once led by current UAW President Gary Jones, whose home, along with that of his predecessor, Dennis Williams, was raided last month.

A neighbor told the Free Press at the time that agents could be seen counting "wads" of cash as he watched Jones' garage using binoculars.

Cash was among the items seized during the recent raids, and the Pearson complaint says $30,000 was taken from the home of "UAW Official A."

Nine people, including former UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell and former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Vice President Alphons Iacobellli, have been convicted to date in an investigation that first became public in 2017. The latest charge brings the investigation clearly into the UAW leadership as Pearson is a member of the union's International Executive Board.

The case also casts a shadow over ongoing UAW negotiations with the Detroit Three, threatening to erode worker trust in their leaders. Union contracts with the automakers expire this weekend.

 

At least some of the evidence used to target Pearson was uncovered during raids late last month, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Jones' suburban Detroit home; the California home of Williams; and other UAW sites were raided. Pearson's Missouri home and the regional office he leads were among the locations raided, WSKD-TV in St. Louis reported.

A news release Thursday said Pearson conspired with other UAW officials to embezzle union money by concealing personal expenditures connected to UAW Region 5 conferences in Palm Springs and Coronado, California, and in Missouri.

Pearson and other officials also spent more than $100,000 on golf clothing, shirts, hats and other swag from various pro shops, the release said.

In addition, $60,000 was embezzled specifically for cigars, humidors, cigar-cutting equipment and lighters from 2014-18, the release said.

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