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UAW cuts off Williams after costly legal fight

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — The United Auto Workers will no longer pay for criminal defense lawyers for retired President Dennis Williams, who remains under investigation in a years-long corruption investigation.

The union's governing board voted Tuesday to end legal payments for Williams after incurring at least $320,912 in fees last year. So far, the UAW has spent more than $2.3 million on legal fees related to the scandal, including money spent defending key labor leaders such as former President Gary Jones. 

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The UAW's most recent annual filing shows the union has paid more than $1.9 million to the Chicago law firm Cotsirilos, Tighe, Streicker, Poulos & Campbell since 2015 to oversee the union's response to the ongoing federal investigation.

The federal corruption probe has revealed labor leaders and auto executives broke federal labor laws, stole union funds and received bribes. The move to stop paying Williams' legal fees comes after a long, costly investigation and amid indications he is negotiating a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

His lawyers could not be reached for comment immediately Friday.

The investigation has led to 14 convictions, including one former union president, two UAW vice presidents, a union widow and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles executives.

The move to stop paying Williams' legal fees comes after the retired UAW president recently reimbursed the union more than $56,000 spent on personal housing and travel expenses during his tenure, which ended in 2018.

UAW leaders have previously said the union will seek repayment of legal fees spent defending labor leaders either convicted of crimes or who violated the union's rules or Constitution. UAW leaders also have vowed to pursue recovering any misappropriated union funds.

UAW cottage #4, on Black Lake at the UAW complex near Onaway, MI Monday, Sept. 16, 2019.

Williams helped embezzle more than $1 million spent on personal luxuries and illegally used money from Detroit automakers to renovate the union’s northern Michigan resort, where the UAW used some non-union labor to build him a $1.3 million lakefront home, according to federal court records. 

The allegations are outlined in the 45-page deal Jones, his successor, reached with prosecutors to plead guilty to embezzlement, racketeering and tax charges in June.

Twitter: @robertsnellnews