Detroit — The luxury fountain pens former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV executive Alphons Iacobelli is accused of buying with money siphoned from a UAW training center are so rare, only 50 were available worldwide.
According to federal prosecutors, Iacobelli bought two.
A new government filing obtained by The Detroit News pinpoints the defining symbol of a $4.5 million scandal and offers insight into the man at the center of a high-profile federal indictment alleging corruption between one of Detroit’s Big Three automakers and the United Auto Workers, experts say.
The Montblanc pen was sold in 2013 as part of a limited series honoring President Abraham Lincoln and cost $35,700 each – that’s $7,600 more than the median household income in Detroit. The black pen features solid, 18-karat gold fittings, a blue sapphire embedded in the clip, a mother-of-pearl cap ringed by three diamonds and an 18-karat gold tip engraved with 13 stars.
The filing indicates federal agents seized at least one of the luxury pens from Iacobelli’s $1.3 million Rochester Hills mansion July 26, the day the former Fiat Chrysler labor negotiator and Monica Morgan-Holiefield, widow of former UAW Vice President General Holiefield, were indicted by a federal grand jury. The pen purchase and other alleged wrongdoing could land Iacobelli, 58, in a federal pen for five years.
“This is a guy trying to live like how he thinks rich people live,” said Eric Fonville, president of the Michigan Pen Club, a collectors group of about 130 members. “Nobody would buy a $40,000 Montblanc. True millionaires don’t spend money like that.”
Iacobelli’s lawyer did not respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday.
Iacobelli paid for the pens with money meant for blue-collar union workers, federal prosecutors allege. The pens were part of what prosecutors describe as Iacobelli’s more than $1 million shopping spree.
More than $403,000 was spent paying Iacobelli’s personal credit card expenses, and he used more than $350,000 to buy a 2013 Ferrari 458 Spider, according to the indictment.
Another $96,000 in training center funds paid for a pool at Iacobelli’s mansion, an outdoor kitchen and spa.
Prosecutors have filed paperwork to seize the 6,815-square-foot mansion upon conviction, arguing the home is tied to fraud and money laundering.
The indictment accuses Iacobelli, former FCA financial analyst Jerome Durden and other unnamed co-conspirators of using the training center’s bank accounts and credit cards to funnel payoffs to Holiefield and other senior UAW officials.
Iacobelli and others created a liberal spending policy to keep senior UAW leaders “fat, dumb and happy,” according to the indictment.
The government alleges Iacobelli, Morgan and others conspired to violate a federal labor law designed to combat corruption of the collective bargaining process.
Iacobelli had to plan ahead to buy the limited-edition Montblanc pens with training center funds, prosecutors said
Iacobelli and others transferred $35,000 from the training center for a down payment for the pens between October 2011 and September 2012, according to prosecutors.
The pen celebrating the life of “Honest Abe” was one in a series of Montblanc pens honoring presidents, including George Washington and John F. Kennedy.
“Pens are like jewelry that you can write with,” said Alex Lebarre, owner of PenzDetroiT, a pen shop next door to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in downtown Detroit. “To a lot of people, that’s a lot of money but to a small group of people, that’s nothing. They want something you don’t have.”
Lebarre credits federal investigators for finding the pens.
“A pen is a small enough item that you can buy and squirrel it away,” Lebarre said. “People who have a lot of ill-gotten money, like Bernie Madoff, spend it on small things that they can move from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B.’ ”
The Lincoln Montblanc is part of a broader luxury fountain pen market. Last year, fountain pen retail sales were up 2.1 percent from a year earlier, totaling $1.046 billion, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Iacobelli does not appear to be a serious pen collector. Fonville, the pen club president, had never heard of him until the indictment.
“He’s not a part of the pen-collecting community,” Fonville said.
He calls luxury pens like the $37,000 Montblanc “pocket jewelry.”
“Do diamonds make a pen write any better?” Fonville said. “No. Is it something to flash toward your friends? Yeah.”
The sky isn’t the limit when it comes to luxury pens, Fonville said. In Japan, one manufacturer made approximately six pens that include a piece of moon rock, he said.
Fonville does not see the wisdom in buying two Lincoln pens.
“They’ve got a lifetime warranty,” Fonville said. “If you break it, they’ll build you another one. It’s so odd because it was an atypical purchase. If he’d bought a $40,000 boat, nobody would have paid attention to that. Most people would look at a $40,000 pen in a desk drawer and say ‘you spent 40 grand on this?’ ”