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Detroit — Retired United Auto Workers Vice President Joe Ashton is expected to plead guilty Dec. 4 in connection with a bribery and kickback scandal, according to a federal court filing Wednesday.

Ashton, who also served on the board of General Motors Co., will be the highest-ranking UAW officer convicted in a corruption scandal that has led to charges against 12 others and implicated UAW President Gary Jones and past President Dennis Williams.

The plea hearing in front of U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman was scheduled two weeks after Ashton, 71, of Ocean View, N.J., was charged with fraud and money-laundering conspiracies. The fraud charge is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison; money-laundering conspiracy is a 10-year felony.

Ashton, who retired in 2014 and was appointed as the union's representative on the board of General Motors Co., was charged three months after The Detroit News identified him as the unnamed union official accused in a federal criminal complaint of demanding $550,000 in kickbacks and bribes from vendors.

In return, a list of vendors that included Ashton's personal chiropractor received contracts to produce more than $15.8 million worth of union-branded trinkets, including backpacks, jackets and commemorative watches.

The criminal allegations mark a sharp fall for a powerful union leader who resigned from the GM board two years ago after The News revealed he was under investigation aimed at rooting out corruption within the U.S. auto industry and one of the nation's largest and most powerful unions.

The criminal case also ends a period of prolonged uncertainty for Ashton, and leaves Jones and Williams as two big targets of the federal investigation. They are accused in court documents of participating in a conspiracy that embezzled more than $1.5 million from the UAW. Neither has been charged.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews

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