Fiat Chrysler exec, UAW widow to plead guilty
Detroit — A former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV executive and the widow of a former UAW leader have struck plea deals as part of a $4.5 million corruption scandal involving the Detroit Three automakers and the United Auto Workers.
Former FCA labor negotiator Alphons Iacobelli and Monica Morgan-Holiefield, the widow of former UAW Vice President General Holiefield, are expected to plead guilty to unspecified federal charges next week.
The plea deals come as federal agents have expanded the corruption investigation to include a former member of General Motors Co.’s board and United Auto Workers training centers funded by all three Detroit automakers.
It is unclear whether the guilty pleas will lead to charges against more people or provide new insight into allegations that auto industry officials conspired to corrupt labor negotiations.
“The question is whether Iacobelli is the top of the food chain,” said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor. “Getting to a chief executive or senior level official is always very difficult.”
The Detroit News first reported that Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has been questioned by investigators amid the widening investigation. He is represented by a white-collar criminal defense lawyer, William Jeffress of the Washington, D.C., law firm Baker Botts.
“CEOs play at a very high level and tend not to get involved in day-to-day issues,” Henning said. “Rarely are their fingerprints on anything.”
Iacobelli and Morgan-Holiefield are accused of participating in a scheme that siphoned millions of dollars in training funds earmarked for blue-collar workers. Four people have been charged in a case that raised questions about the sanctity of labor deals negotiated between the UAW and automakers.
Iacobelli sanctioned the use of training center credit cards by UAW leaders for personal expenses in a bid to keep senior labor leaders “fat, dumb and happy,” according to a court filing.
Lawyers for Iacobelli, 58, of Rochester Hills, and Morgan-Holiefield, 54, of Harrison Township, declined comment Tuesday.
Iacobelli 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.
He was indicted alongside Morgan-Holiefield in July on eight counts, including conspiracy to violate the Labor Management Relations Act, making prohibited payments to union officials, conspiracy to defraud and subscribing false tax returns, the most severe of which carry penalties of up to five years in federal prison.
He is scheduled to plead guilty Monday in front of U.S. District Judge Paul Borman.
Morgan-Holiefield was 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.
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, nightclubs 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.
Morgan-Holiefield was indicted on five counts, including conspiracy to defraud and subscribing false tax returns.
She is scheduled to plead guilty Jan. 24.
Investigators have seized money and assets during the investigation, including the two gold pens Iacobelli is accused of buying with stolen 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.
Federal prosecutors have seized $292,000 from a fake hospice that funneled cash to Morgan-Holiefield, according to court records.
Two others have struck plea deals in the scandal and are awaiting sentencing in federal court. They are:
— Former Fiat Chrysler financial analyst Jerome Durden, who prosecutors say helped transfer millions of dollars in training center funds to Holiefield, Morgan-Holiefield and Iacobelli. He faces up to 37 months in prison and is expected to cooperate with prosecutors.
— Former UAW official Virdell King, who admitted misusing funds that were intended to train and retrain blue-collar workers. She faces up to 16 months in prison and is expected to cooperate with the investigation.