Former UAW president Williams hires top white-collar lawyer to fight corruption probe

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Former United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams has hired a team of white-collar criminal defense lawyers, including the former federal prosecutor who secured convictions of Enron Corp. executives embroiled in a landmark accounting scandal.

White-collar defense attorney Sean Berkowitz and lawyer Terra Reynolds of the Chicago law firm Latham & Watkins are representing Williams, UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg told The Detroit News on Tuesday.

UAW president Dennis Williams speaks at the UAW 37th Constitutional Convention at Cobo Center in Detroit on June 11, 2018.

Berkowitz headed the Justice Department's Enron Task Force more than a decade ago and successfully prosecuted former Enron executives  Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. Reynolds, meanwhile, is a former assistant U.S. attorney and deputy chief in the northern district of Illinois. 

Berkowitz and Reynolds did not respond to messages seeking comment Tuesday.

“If a criminal case is going to be brought, bringing in the former head of the Enron task force is a big deal,” said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor. “This is going to be a complex case so you want someone with a lot of experience in complex criminal investigations.”

The lawyers were identified four months after Williams emerged as a target of the ongoing federal corruption investigation. Williams' home near Los Angeles was raided in August by federal investigators — and he was held at gunpoint, ordered to lie down and handcuffed after confronting federal agents — and a team of federal agents also searched his retirement home at the UAW's resort in northern Lower Michigan.

Since then, Williams has been accused of participating in a conspiracy to embezzle UAW funds. Williams, former UAW President Gary Jones and others embezzled more than $1 million spent on personal luxuries in Palm Springs, California, prosecutors have alleged.

Williams has not been charged with a crime and is not identified by name in court filings. Instead, prosecutors refer to "UAW Official B," who multiple sources said is Williams.

Union funds were used to rent a private villa for "UAW Official B" in Palm Springs during UAW conferences from 2013-17. The conferences each year lasted up to five days. But villas were rented for "UAW Official B" for months at a time, including a 121-day stay two years ago in Cathedral City, California, that cost the union $20,000, prosecutors said.

The UAW spent more than $15,000 renting this private villa for President Dennis Williams in late 2015 and early 2016, prosecutors say.

Williams, 66, retired and was implicated in the scandal last year when a former labor official told federal prosecutors that Williams directed subordinates to use funds from Detroit’s automakers, funneled through training centers, to pay for union travel, meals and entertainment.

The former UAW official, Nancy Adams Johnson, told investigators Williams made the directive to relieve pressure on the union’s budget.

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