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UAW's Vance Pearson makes initial court appearance on corruption charges

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — Two days after resigning as director of United Auto Workers' Region 5, Vance Pearson made his initial Detroit federal court appearance on corruption charges Tuesday, telling the judge he understood the charges against him.

Pearson, 58, resigned from his union leadership position on Sunday. He is charged with embezzlement of union funds, mail and wire fraud, and money laundering. Pearson and former UAW Presidents Gary Jones and Dennis Williams are accused of embezzling more than $1 million in member dues that were spent on luxuries, including private villas, liquor, golf and cigars. Neither Jones nor Williams have been charged.

Vance Pearson is seen leaving federal court Tuesday in downtown Detroit.

Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford released Pearson on a $10,000 bond and made sure he understood that he's not allowed to travel outside of the U.S., he cannot contact the victims in the case and he must turn in his concealed carry permit. 

"I have already surrendered my weapons," Pearson said to the judge.

Pearson appeared before the court unshaven and dressed in all black.

When asked how Pearson is doing,  his attorney, Scott Rosenblum, said: "He's lost 20 pounds. It's never a good morning when the FBI knocks on your door."

Pearson's home in suburban St. Louis and office were raided by federal agents Aug. 28 as part of a nationwide search in four states targeting UAW officials, including Jones and Williams.

Both Pearson and Jones resigned after the union's International Executive Board last Wednesday filed union charges against them, which could have potentially removed them from office following a union trial.

In a statement the UAW  said it "is disgusted by allegations of criminal wrongdoing and concealment alleged in the government’s charges against Pearson. If true, they constitute a grave breach of Mr. Pearson’s sacred duties to our members and our union."

Vance Pearson

Rosenblum said Pearson resigned from the union to focus on his defense.

Pearson met with prosecutors Nov. 12 in St. Louis "in order to determine whether any pre-indictment resolution could be reached," according to a filing signed Rosenblum, and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gardey.

Pearson and Jones both come from the union's Region 5 office in St. Louis. Jones was director of the 17-state region from 2012 until 2018 when he became president of the union and Pearson took the position of Region 5 director. Pearson also served on the board of directors overseeing Jones' charity.

A preliminary hearing is set for Pearson on Jan. 6 in Detroit. 

khall@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @bykaleahall