The wife of a former United Auto Workers vice president was released on $10,000 unsecured bond Monday after being arraigned on federal charges she pocketed money in a $1.2 million conspiracy involving Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US LLC.
The federal court arraignment for Monica Morgan-Holiefield, 54, of Harrison Township comes less than a week after she was indicted and accused of participating in a multi-year enrichment scheme that allegedly included paying off her $262,000 mortgage and $30,000 in airline tickets to cities across the U.S. using money that was supposed to benefit blue-collar FCA workers.
U.S. Magistrate Judge David Grand, entered a not guilty plea on Morgan’s behalf and she agreed to turn in her passport and her concealed pistol license as conditions of her bond.
Morgan-Holiefield was charged with criminal violations of the Labor Management Relations Act, which prohibits employers or those working for them from paying, lending or delivering money or other valuables to officers or employees of labor organizations — and from labor leaders from accepting such items.
If she is convicted on conspiracy to defraud the government, she could face up to five years in federal prison and/or up to a $250,000 fine.
Morgan-Holiefield was joined by two friends Monday who defended her character.
“She is not the gold digger they are making her out to be,” friend Alecia Goodlow-Young said outside court. “She is an ambitious woman but that doesn’t mean a negative ambitious woman.”
“It’s not right to put this all on her,” Goodlow-Young told reporters. “They’re attacking her character.”
Morgan-Holiefield said little during the hearing other than answering “yes sir” to routine questions. She left court with defense lawyer Steve Fishman, who declined comment.
The local businesswoman and photographer was married to the late General Holiefield, a former United Auto Workers vice president of the Fiat Chrysler department who died in March 2015.
Morgan-Holiefield is one of three people charged during an ongoing investigation.
Alphons Iacobelli, 57, of Rochester Hills, a top labor negotiator at Fiat Chrysler until June 2015, also was indicted and is accused of pocketing employee training funds to pay for a Ferrari and solid-gold Mont Blanc pens. He is scheduled to be in court Tuesday.
The indictment charges Iacobelli and others associated with FCA for making more than $1.2 million in prohibited payments from 2009 to 2014 to Morgan-Holiefield, Holiefield and others during the time Iacobelli and Holiefield squared off at the bargaining table for contract negotiations for tens of thousands of hourly Fiat Chrysler workers. Court filings claim money went toward designer clothing, jewelry, furniture — and paying off a $262,219 mortgage on the home of Holiefield and Morgan-Holiefield.
Authorities say the payments came from a bank account and credit cards from the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center in Detroit, which provides training for union FCA employees.
FCA finances the training center, which from 2009 to 2014 received $13 million to $31 million per year, according to court filings. The government alleges Iacobelli, Durden and two other unnamed people controlled the finances and spending at the training center and directed hundreds of thousands of dollars in training center funds to pay for travel, personal items and expenses for Holiefield and other UAW officials and family members.
Morgan-Holiefield also was charged with using companies including Monica Morgan Photography, Wilson’s Diversified Products and a third company to hide Fiat Chrysler payments from Iacobelli and others to Holiefield — and for failing to report that income on her individual tax returns.
Some of the money and payments from Fiat Chrysler to Holiefield and Morgan-Holiefield came through the nonprofit Leave the Light on Foundation in Detroit, which was controlled by Holiefield, according to court records. Tax records indicate that the group supported youth organizations and education.
Court records say between July 2009 and May 2011 more than $150,000 was given to the foundation through the training center, including payments of more than $70,000 to Monica Morgan Photography, which allegedly was spent at retailers, night clubs and restaurants. In May 2011, a training center credit card was used to pay for a more than $2,200 airline ticket to San Diego for Morgan-Holiefield and from May 2011 to October 2013, the center bought more than $30,000 in airline tickets for Morgan-Holiefield to fly to Miami, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Jerome Durden, 61, of Rochester was charged separately with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. He was a financial analyst with Fiat Chrysler’s corporate accounting department and from 2008 through 2015 was controller of the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center. Durden is scheduled to be in court on Friday.
Iacobelli was hired by General Motors Co. in January 2016 as executive director of labor relations. GM has not commented on his employment status with the automaker.