Williams shifts blame, points fingers at UAW brothers in push for light sentence

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
View Comments

Detroit — Retired United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams should not spend more than one year and a day in federal prison for stealing from union members because he is an American success story, is charitable and has health problems, his lawyers argued late Monday.

The attorneys pushed back against the government's request that Williams, 67, one of two former presidents convicted in a years-long investigation into corruption within the U.S. auto industry, spend two years in federal prison for helping push one of the nation's most influential unions into prolonged government oversight.

Outgoing UAW President Dennis Williams runs officer nominations from the main podium.

In a sentencing memorandum, however, Williams continued blaming underlings, including his successor, former President Gary Jones, for conspiring to embezzle more than $1 million in union money. The funds were spent on personal luxuries, including private villas for months at a time for Williams, booze for his wife, lavish meals and more than $60,000 in cigars and humidors.

"Mr. Williams’ life — until his conviction — was a great American success story," attorney Terra Reynolds wrote.

Williams should be credited with saving the UAW from a financial crisis, according to one supporter who joined a team of friends, including Hollywood actor Danny Glover, that wrote letters to U.S. District Judge Paul Borman.

Williams will be sentenced May 11.

The defense sentencing memo charts Williams' rise from a Marine Corps veteran to time spent working as a welder on the factory floor to leading the UAW from 2014-18.

"Mr. Williams’ mistakes, while serious, represent an aberration from a life otherwise full of service to his family, his community, his country, and the labor movement," his lawyer wrote.

Federal prosecutors portrayed Williams as an imperious, hypocritical thief who helped embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on luxuries, including private villas, cigars, booze and more.

He was publicly implicated in wrongdoing in summer 2018 when The Detroit News named Williams as the unidentified UAW official accused in a federal court filing of illegally ordering underlings to offload entertainment and travel expenses to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Williams lived under a cloud of scandal until being charged in August 2020 with conspiracy to embezzle union funds. The conspiracy involved UAW leaders trying to cover up expenses during union junkets in Palm Springs and providing Williams with villas, cigars, golfing apparel, green fees at golf courses, and high-end liquor and meals.

Since pleading implicated in the conspiracy, Williams has paid $132,517 restitution to the UAW and $15,459 in taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, his lawyers wrote.

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

In December, three months after Williams pleaded guilty, the UAW reached a deal with federal prosecutors to end a criminal investigation targeting the union. The settlement involves federal oversight of the UAW that will last six years, cost millions and focus on preventing more corruption.

"Mr. Williams has taken all possible steps to right his wrongs," his lawyer wrote. "Mr. Williams has withdrawn his membership from the UAW, thereby severing his connection to the organization to which he devoted his entire professional life. His reputation and relationships with former colleagues, built over many years, have been all but destroyed."

Court filings this week reveal the scope of cooperation from Jones and former UAW regional director Vance Pearson. They blamed Williams for the scheme and said they felt pressured to spend union money on personal luxuries for Williams, including $1,760 worth of champagne requested by his wife, Donna.

In the sentencing memo Monday, Williams said he had suspicions about how the UAW was paying for luxuries but Jones assured him everything was "above board."

"Mr. Williams did not look into the issue further, and did not otherwise determine the source of the funds," his lawyer wrote.

Williams also blamed Jones for covering up the conspiracy by submitting fraudulent vouchers to the UAW's accounting department.

"Unbeknownst to Mr. Williams, the master billing scheme was only one of a number of schemes Jones concocted to embezzle money from the UAW," Reynolds wrote.

Williams has a long history of service and charity that justifies a shorter prison sentence, his lawyers wrote.

While serving on the board of Navistar, Williams opted against receiving compensation and, instead, contributed more than $1.1 million to company retirees, Reynolds said.

And during his tenure as UAW career, Williams helped stabilize the union's finances and boost membership by more than 60,000 workers.

"Wherever Mr. Williams has gone, he has thrown himself into the betterment of the community and the people around him," Reynolds wrote. "Such a heart for service is grounds alone for a downward variance."

Glover became acquainted with Williams while working on behalf of Nissan workers in Mississippi. 

"There has been no one that I have seen put themselves in the frontlines of the union struggle and with such generosity and openness as Dennis Williams," Glover wrote.

Former Michigan U.S. Rep. David Curson, a Democrat from Belleville, urged the judge to consider Williams' character and "all the goodness that this man has dedicated his life to."

"Without question, Dennis's work saved the UAW from financial crisis allowing this valued institution to continue serving its nearly one million active and retired members to the highest degree," Curson wrote.

Williams' age and health problems justify a shorter sentence, his lawyer wrote. Williams turns 68 the day after sentencing and suffers from heart and blood pressure issues, Reynolds wrote.

"He has lost his career, his reputation, and will soon lose his freedom," Reynolds wrote. "He has been punished much longer than the time he will serve in prison. Since 2018 he has been attached (sic) by the press and lived under the cloud of investigation and threat of imprisonment."

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews

View Comments