Feds aimed guns, handcuffed ex-UAW boss Dennis Williams during raids

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Retired United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams was held at gunpoint, ordered to lie down and handcuffed after confronting federal agents who arrived to search his California home in a long-running corruption investigation, three sources told The Detroit News.

Williams was outside smoking a cigar while waiting for agents to arrive at his $610,000 home in the early morning of Aug. 28, an indication he may have been tipped off about a series of raids unfolding across the country that targeted UAW officials, the sources said.

That heightens concern that evidence might have been destroyed or hidden as investigators target the top echelon of one of the country's largest and most powerful labor unions, legal experts said.

Retired UAW President Dennis Williams

The sources, who are not authorized to speak publicly, describe a dramatic behind-the-scenes moment in a series of raids carried out by the FBI, the IRS and the U.S. Labor Department at six locations in four states, including the home of UAW President Gary Jones in Canton Township.

It is unclear what prompted agents to aim their weapons at the 66-year-old retired UAW president outside his home in Corona, 47 miles east of Los Angeles. But investigators might have feared for their safety during a raid linked to a white-collar criminal investigation.

“People involved in a white-collar criminal investigation can be just as violent as a drug dealer or gang banger or a murderer if they see their life going downhill,” said Andrew Arena, former special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit field office. “If the guy is aggressive, agents may ramp it up."

Spokeswomen for the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment.

Williams, who was not arrested during the raid, could not be reached for comment. 

“We’re not going to speculate nor are we aware of any specific details like this as it relates to the ongoing investigation,” UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg told The News on Tuesday. “The focus of the UAW is solely on the strike (against General Motors) and negotiating the best deal for our workers.”

UAW Solidarity House in Detroit.

The News learned new details about the Williams raid after prosecutors expanded the corruption investigation by charging a 10th person with a crime. Vance Pearson, a member of the UAW's governing board who oversees a regional office near St. Louis, was accused of embezzling UAW funds, laundering money and committing mail and wire fraud.

UAW President Gary Jones and Region 5 Director Vance Pearson

Jones and Williams are unnamed union officials accused in the Pearson case of helping orchestrate the years-long conspiracy and spending UAW funds on personal luxuries, three sources told The News. Neither has been charged with a crime.

The personal luxuries included more than $1 million of member dues spent on poolside villas in Palm Springs, 107 rounds of golf, $400 bottles of Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne and more than $60,000 worth of cigars, humidors and accessories, according to the government.

Williams, who is president emeritus of the UAW, was smoking a cigar when agents arrived at his new home in the Terramor community, nestled in the hillsides of the Temescal Valley, sources said.

The retired labor leader had returned to his California home days earlier from a lakefront home the UAW built for him at the union's Black Lake retreat in northern Michigan, sources said. The retreat also was searched by investigators Aug. 28.

Cabin for retired leader rises as feds question UAW spending

Williams also talked about spending winter and spring in California and the rest of the year at the Black Lake home, a neighbor said. 

The series of raids burst into view Aug. 28 when The News broke the story that investigators had started searching Jones' home around 7 a.m. 

An FBI agent enters the home of UAW President Gary Jones during a search of the home in Canton.

A federal magistrate judge authorized searches in California, Missouri, Wisconsin and Michigan after investigators submitted a sealed affidavit listing probable cause that a crime had been committed and that evidence would be found inside the target locations. 

There was a several-hour delay before a separate team of investigators arrived at Williams' home in California.

Typically, investigators are allowed to execute a search as early as 6 a.m. unless there are extenuating circumstances.

"You need special consent," Arena said.

When the Jones search started in Michigan, it was 4 a.m. in California — too early to search the Williams home.

Ideally, investigators want to launch raids simultaneously to catch people by surprise, Arena said.

"You don't want people to get tipped off," Arena said.

But by the time investigators arrived at Williams' home in California, the retired UAW president was outside the home and awaiting agents, sources said.

Williams and his wife bought the $610,000 Corona home in January, seven months after he retired from the UAW. The couple obtained a $260,000 mortgage, according to property records.

The couple quickly made friends in a neighborhood filled with professionals, including a music producer, architects and an executive in charge of costumes at Disneyland. 

Williams and his wife installed a large outdoor kitchen with a barbecue and pizza oven and hosted parties, including one last weekend featuring pink flamingo decorations, a neighbor who did not want to be named told The News. 

Williams mentioned the Black Lake home the union built for him — with nonunion labor — at the UAW retreat and talked about his boats, the neighbor said.

Construction equipment sits outside an unfinished new cottage for retired UAW President Dennis Williams on the UAW property on Black Lake, near Cheboygan.

The Black Lake home is listed as his address on state records for two boats purchased last year that would have retailed for approximately $92,000, according to state watercraft registrations. 

One of the boats, a 24-foot Berkshire pontoon, is marketed as a "bar boat" for entertaining people on the water. The 2019 model retails for approximately $55,000.

Williams and his wife also registered a Lund 1875 Crossover XS fishing and skiing boat, according to state records. The boat, purchased in May 2018, features a 150-hp motor that cost $13,000 extra, bringing the price to approximately $37,000. 


Twitter: @robertsnellnews