Corrupt UAW boss wore wire while playing golf with union brothers

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Prosecutors on Wednesday said a United Auto Workers official caught in a years-long corruption scandal deserves probation because he helped prosecutors convict two former presidents and secure federal oversight of the belabored union.

Edward "Nick" Robinson's help in exposing corruption within the UAW's top ranks included risking his safety by wearing secret recording devices during union junkets and while golfing with corrupt colleagues, according to a sentencing memo filed in federal court.

Edward "Nick" Robinson, left, leaves the federal courthouse in Detroit with his attorney, James Martin, on Monday.

Robinson is portrayed in court filings as a pivotal figure in an investigation that has led to the convictions of 15 people. The probe by agents from the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and Labor Department has revealed labor leaders and auto executives broke federal labor laws, stole union funds and received bribes and illegal benefits from union contractors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles executives.

Robinson, 73, of Kirkwood, Missouri, an aide to former UAW President Gary Jones, wore secret recording devices on at least 10 days from March-August 2019, prosecutors revealed. That includes Aug. 28, 2019, when federal agents raided multiple locations across the country, including Jones' Michigan home and a UAW regional office in Missouri.

"This was done so that agents could secure the immediate reactions of UAW officials to steps taken in the investigation," Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gardey wrote.

"Robinson took risks in cooperating against close associates who held significant positions of power in one of the most important labor unions in the country," Gardey added. "Robinson’s cooperation was early, truthful, self-motivated, proactive, and highly significant to the government’s investigation."

In March, Robinson pleaded guilty to embezzling union funds and splitting the money with Jones. He faces up to five years in federal prison after admitting he conspired with at least six other UAW officials to embezzle more than $1 million since 2010 and spent the money on personal luxuries such as Palm Spring, California, villas, golf trips, and more than $60,000 in cigars.

UAW President Gary Jones, left, and Region 5 Director Vance Pearson.

His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 27 in front of U.S. District Judge Paul Borman.

Robinson's cooperation, and revelation that he wore a recording device, quickly led to the convictions of Jones, former President Dennis Williams and Vance Pearson, who headed the UAW regional office in Missouri. His help also enabled federal investigators to obtain court approval to search multiple locations, including a $1.3 million lakefront home the UAW built for Williams with mostly nonunion labor.

The United Auto Workers used nonunion labor to build this lakefront home for retired President Dennis Williams at the union's 1,000-acre retreat in Onaway.

"Robinson’s cooperation also aided the government in its effort to secure federal oversight of the UAW," Gardey wrote. "Robinson’s cooperation in revealing the existence of a multidimensional embezzlement conspiracy and obstruction of justice within the UAW contributed to the government’s ability to secure this settlement."

The proposed deal includes government oversight of the UAW for six years and would let rank-and-file workers decide whether to alter the union's constitution to allow for direct election of future leaders.

Such a constitutional change would be groundbreaking and give members the right to hold elections and directly vote for new UAW leaders for the first time in more than 70 years.

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