Detroit — FBI agents have seized $354,000 and rare $35,700 fountain pens during a hunt for money and assets tied to Alphons Iacobelli, the former Fiat Chrysler executive charged in a corruption scandal.
Federal court records and interviews offer insight into a search conducted in the background of a $4.5 million corruption case involving one of Detroit’s Big Three automakers and the United Auto Workers. The hunt includes upscale locales, a six-digit check and a cameo by a neighbor of Iacobelli.
The money and luxury fountain pens could help offset financial harm caused during what prosecutors labeled a years-long conspiracy. The conspiracy was headed by Iacobelli and drained millions of dollars in Fiat Chrysler money from a fund that was supposed to help train UAW blue-collar workers, prosecutors allege.
“Anything the government traces to a crime, they can seize,” said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor.
Details about the hunt emerged Tuesday, less than three months after 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. They are accused of participating in a scheme that siphoned millions of dollars in training funds earmarked for blue-collar workers.
Iacobelli, 58, is accused of spending more than $1 million of union funds on luxury items, including his house, pool, outdoor spa and kitchen, a Ferrari and the two limited-edition, gold Montblanc fountain pens.
Between October 2013 and September 2014, Iacobelli and others transferred more than $350,000 from the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center to buy the Ferrari, prosecutors said.
Iacobelli bought the used Ferrari from a dealership in Naples, Florida, in May 2014. The cherry red roadster had “IACOBLI” personalized plates.
Iacobelli, however, dumped the Ferrari for a $73,000 loss in September 2015 within days of prosecutors signaling his involvement in the $4.5 million corruption scandal.
Six months later, FBI agents tracked down some of the money.
Search warrant documents obtained by The Detroit News reveal that in March 2016, agents seized $354,000.
The $354,000 was a check given to the U.S. Marshals Service by the law firm Butzel Long. That’s the same firm that employs Iacobelli’s defense lawyer, David DuMouchel.
“I would expect the law firm saw what was coming and said to Iacobelli ‘You’ve got to turn this money over,’ ” Henning said. “You don’t want the government rummaging around and hunting all over.”
The pens proved to be a more elusive asset.
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 bejeweled pens are considered the defining symbol of the corruption scandal. Only 50 were made by the fabled pen company to honor President Abraham Lincoln and feature 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.
Iacobelli received the pens during a rare private showing at the Montblanc store at Somerset Collection mall in Troy, according to a source familiar with the purchase. The store was closed to the public for the intimate event.
Normally, special edition pens are only sold through flagship Montblanc stores but since Iacobelli made a downpayment, the pens were shipped to Michigan, the source said.
One pen was seized from Iacobelli’s $1.3 million Rochester Hills mansion July 26, the day he and Morgan-Holiefield were indicted by a federal grand jury. The pen purchase and other alleged wrongdoing could land Iacobelli in a federal pen for five years.
A month later, on Aug. 23, federal agents found the second pen in an unlikely location.
Federal court records indicate the second pen was seized from his neighbor’s office.
The source described Iacobelli’s neighbor as a VIP Montblanc client who first told Iacobelli about the special edition Lincoln pen.
Iacobelli gave his neighbor the pen as an apparent gift, the source said.
“If they’ve seized it and (the neighbor) hasn’t come into court yet to challenge it, it was likely a gift,” Henning said. “My guess is he didn’t do anything wrong but ended up getting caught up in something. The government can go out and grab it.”
A gift might explain why Iacobelli bought two pens, each of which comes with a lifetime warranty.
“If you break it, they’ll build you another one,” said Eric Fonville, president of the Michigan Pen Club, a collectors group of about 130 members. “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?’ ”