Investigation claims are 'scurrilous' and 'false,' says UAW President Gamble

In a letter to members Thursday, United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble denounced allegations he was involved in a kickback and bribery scheme being investigated by federal agents as a part of a broader corruption investigation, calling the charges "scurrilous" and "false."

The letter comes after The Detroit News reported Wednesday night that federal agents are investigating financial ties between Gamble, retired Vice President Jimmy Settles and one of the union's highest-paid vendors of union-branded merchandise, Huntington Woods businessman Jason Gordon.

United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble

Agents are investigating a tip that secret cash payments were given to UAW officials at a Detroit strip club, which The News has been told is the Bouzouki Greektown. The probe is ongoing, and the team of investigators has not proven the allegation.

"I would not have accepted the role of president if I couldn't withstand the scrutiny that I knew this job would bring," Gamble wrote, reprising a statement he gave to The News on Wednesday. "Additionally, I have never been to the establishment cited in the article with Mr. Gordon or any other vendor. That is simply untrue and never happened."

Gamble continued: "In all those years of working with this vendor, they never approached me in any manner that was less than professional or questionable in any way, and I absolutely never requested or received any cash or kickback from the vendor or any other. Nor did I ever approach them in any unprofessional or questionable manner."

Settles, 69, was the union's top negotiator with Ford Motor Co. until retiring in 2018 and being appointed by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to head of the city's Department of Neighborhoods. Settles' defense attorney, Steve Fishman, said:

"Jimmy Settles has never been in the Bouzouki Lounge in Greektown in his life, nor has he ever received any secret cash payments as alleged in The News article yesterday.  Whoever made those claims is, in the immortal words of Jack Nicholson in the movie Chinatown, even dumber than he thinks I think he is."

News of the investigation into Gamble comes amid a growing grassroots movement of rank-and-file members demanding a special convention to address corruption and institute direct election of international officers. At least eight locals in five states representing roughly 12,000 members so far have backed the movement to hold a special convention under Article 8, Section 4 of the UAW constitution.

"Naturally, as union representatives, we're getting tired of it," said Mike Booth, president of Local 961 in Warren, who said he supports the "one member, one vote" movement. "I am proudly behind that. Every member should have a direct say on who represents them. The membership is the highest voting authority."

Gamble was appointed last November to complete the unexpired term of former President Gary Jones. Gamble is the third consecutive UAW president connected to the wide-ranging, approximately five-year investigation into union corruption chronicled by The News. The probe has produced charges against 13 people, secured 11 convictions and exposed the union to possible government oversight.

"Rory is the first one to come out with a public statement with accusations against him and defending himself," said Chris Budnick, a UAW member at Ford's Kentucky Truck and a founder of the Unite All Workers for Democracy movement pushing for the Article 8 special convention. "It's bold and encouraging. My hope is that the government doesn't have a different story."

Prosecutors have accused Jones and his predecessor, President Dennis Williams, of participating in a racketeering enterprise that embezzled more than $1.5 million in union funds. Neither of them has been charged with wrongdoing, nor has Gamble or Settles.

Jimmy Settles, retired head of the United Auto Workers' Ford Motor Co. Department, now heads Detroit's Department of Neighborhoods.

"What the union used to be and what it is now are two different things," said Angelo Pizzo, a UAW member who has worked at Ford for less than 10 years. "It's not about the people no more."

Since becoming president, Gamble has announced a series of reforms in the union, including financial audits, the creation of an independent ethics investigator and the dissolution of Region 5, which had been at the center of the federal investigation — all in an effort, he told The News last November, to "save my union."

Gamble ordered an end to all charitable contributions from joint-training centers, vendors or employers to charities run or controlled by UAW officials. He is enacting accountability measures for joint programs. And he's moving to "permanently" ban "purchases of promotional items using joint program funds."

"I will continue to be transparent and very direct about any issues that come up concerning me personally or this union," Gamble wrote. "Our union has suffered enough as a result of corrupt leaders. On my watch, we cannot and will not allow financial improprieties rob our members of their hard-earned dollars."

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble