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Detroit — The coronavirus pandemic has delayed plans for former United Auto Workers President Gary Jones to plead guilty to embezzlement, racketeering and a tax crime.

Defense lawyer Bruce Maffeo of New York told The Detroit News he requested and received a two-week delay until April 2 due to concerns about traveling to Detroit during the outbreak. 

The pandemic postpones what would have been a historic week in the ongoing UAW corruption scandal. Former UAW Vice President Joe Ashton was scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday for his role in a bribery and kickback scandal but the hearing has been delayed until May 20.

The Ashton delay was unexplained. Both men are believed to be cooperating with an ongoing investigation of racketeering, bribery and kickbacks involving labor leaders.

The coronavirus pandemic is having a broader impact on court operations. Court officials Friday curtailed activities at the five federal courts in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Port Huron, Flint and Bay City.

All civil and criminal matters scheduled for in-court appearances, and grand jury proceedings, were postponed indefinitely.

Ashton, 71, of Ocean View, New Jersey, who also served on the board of General Motors Co., is the highest-ranking person convicted of a crime during a years-long investigation of auto industry corruption. The investigation has led to 13 convictions, so far.

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He pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. The government's recommended sentence is 30-37 months. 

Ashton admitted receiving at least $250,000 in kickbacks and bribes from union 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.

Jones, 63, meanwhile, is expected to plead guilty to helping embezzle more than $1 million, racketeering and income tax evasion. Jones and other UAW officials spent the embezzled money on private villas in California, expensive dinners, liquor, golf and more, prosecutors said.

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Tour golf courses and resorts frequented by UAW officials in Palm Springs, Calif., where the union has spent more than $1 million in recent years. The Detroit News

Jones is facing two charges, each of which could send him to prison for up to five years. The charges are conspiracy to embezzle union funds and using a facility of interstate commerce to aid racketeering activity, and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. by evading income taxes.

Jones is accused of helping orchestrate a nine-year embezzlement conspiracy that started in 2010.

Since August, federal agents have raided his home, searched his bank accounts, seized more than $32,000 and portrayed him as a thief who tried to cover up crimes and obstruct investigators, according to court records that identified him by the alias "UAW Official A."

The plea hearing will reveal how much time Jones could spend in prison. His plea agreement will include a recommended sentence and an advisory guideline range, though U.S. District Judge Paul Borman has wide discretion in issuing a prison sentence.

The legal cases are pending while federal agents are investigating Jones' predecessor, retired President Dennis Williams, who has not been charged with wrongdoing. 

A team of federal agents from the FBI, Internal Revenue Services and Labor Department also are investigating current UAW President Rory Gamble. Investigators are probing allegations of strip club payoffs and financial ties between Gamble, retired Vice President Jimmy Settles and one of the union's highest-paid vendors, sources told The News.

The agents are investigating whether UAW leaders received cash kickbacks or bribes in exchange for awarding lucrative contracts to Huntington Woods businessman Jason Gordon to supply union-branded merchandise, the sources said. Agents are investigating a tip that secret cash payments were delivered to UAW officials at a Detroit strip club, which The News has been told is the Bouzouki Greektown.

In a previous statement, UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said Gamble "can say he never took one red cent personally from Mr. Gordon or directly solicited anything from Mr. Gordon. And President Gamble has never been to that establishment with Mr. Gordon. It simply is not true and never happened."

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews 

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