Ex-UAW leader Gary Jones deserves more than two years in prison, feds say

Robert Snell Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Detroit — Prosecutors want former United Auto Workers President Gary Jones to spend more than two years in federal prison for helping steal as much as $1.5 million from union members. 

In revealing the desired 28-month prison term Thursday, prosecutors also requested that Jones pay $550,000 in restitution to the UAW, $42,000 to the IRS and a forfeiture of $151,377 for his role in a conspiracy that undermined members' faith in union leadership and led to prolonged government oversight.

In a separate filing, Jones's lawyer asked U.S. District Judge Paul Borman for "a significant downward departure" from the sentencing guidelines and asked that he serve any prison sentence in a Texas prison near his wife, though he did not specify how many months imprisonment he feels is appropriate.

Gary Jones.

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Also Thursday, prosecutors moved to dismiss charges against another UAW official, Jeff Pietrzyk, who pleaded guilty two years ago to receiving bribes and kickbacks from union contractors. Pietrzyk was awaiting a likely prison sentence but died of undisclosed causes in April. U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman dismissed the criminal case against him.

Jones will be sentenced June 10 and faces a maximum of nearly five years under a plea agreement for conspiring with other labor leaders to embezzle money from 2010-19 and to commit a tax crime. The 28-month requested sentence is less than Jones' sentencing guideline range of 46 to 57 months, but is appropriate because he cooperated with federal investigators and "has not sought to minimize his crimes or to point fingers at others for his own misconduct," prosecutors wrote.

A 28-month sentence would be tied for the second longest for a UAW official convicted in the corruption scandal. Former Vice President Joe Ashton was sentenced to 30 months for taking $250,000 in kickbacks from a union vendor, and former UAW official Mike Grimes was sentenced to 28 months after admitting he received $1.5 million in bribes and kickbacks from a union contractor.

"There is no question that Jones' crimes were substantial and serious," prosecutors wrote in the request.

They describe tens of thousands of dollars embezzled for personal use and a litany of lavish purchases Jones made with union funds, including custom-made golf clubs, months-long vacations in Palm Springs villas, and more than $60,000 in cigars, entertainment, golf and liquor. "The exorbitance was jaw-dropping," prosecutors wrote. 

Jones' lawyer reiterated his client's remorse while arguing that he did not create the embezzlement scheme and only partially benefited personally from it. He also noted Jones' cooperation with federal investigators as reasoning for a more lenient sentence. 

Jones, his wife, his daughters, several UAW members and other supporters wrote letters to the judge attesting to his character and dedication to the union. In his letter, Jones detailed his faith, his path to union leadership, his participation in the embezzlement scheme and his regret for his crimes.

"I have asked the UAW membership for their forgiveness and will ask again and again whenever the opportunity presents itself," he wrote. "I know that the burdens I have caused my family, and my UAW family will be with me for the rest of my life."

Jones is being sentenced four weeks after his predecessor, President Dennis Williams, was sentenced to 21 months in prison for stealing from union members.

They are the highest-ranking UAW officials caught in a four-year-old prosecution that has secured 15 convictions and that revealed UAW leaders and auto executives broke labor laws, stole union funds and received bribes and kickbacks. 

Jones is expected to be sentenced to a longer term in prison because he conspired to steal more money than Williams.

In a separate filing Thursday, prosecutors outlined how Jones had helped federal investigators convict Williams and helped to secure federal oversight of the union.

Jones' lawyers approached prosecutors in December 2019, before he was charged, offering to help provide information for the corruption investigation. Beginning the next month, he had several "open, truthful, and candid" conversations with prosecutors and federal agents about his crimes. 

The feds haven't finished investigating everyone suspected in the corruption case, prosecutors wrote in the filing. Jones has informed on those suspects and has said he's willing to testify against them. Jones also said he would help the independent monitor's work overseeing union leadership. 

"It is possible that the government will seek to recognize these parts of Jones' cooperation, which are not yet complete, in the future," prosecutors wrote. 

Jones pleaded guilty one year ago but the sentencing was delayed amid the COVID-19 pandemic and because the courthouse was closed to the public. Jones insisted on being sentenced in person instead of via Zoom.

Jones admitted embezzling the money in support of racketeering activity, evading taxes and causing the UAW to file false tax returns. The crimes spanned from 2010-19, a period that matched Jones' rise from heading a union regional office near St. Louis to his tenure atop the UAW.

The sentencing is scheduled 17 months after Jones resigned in disgrace following raids by federal agents at his suburban Detroit home and former office in Missouri. During the raid, investigators found piles of cash in his garage. The discovered $32,377 was proceeds of criminal wrongdoing and is being forfeited to the government.

The August 2019 raids led to Jones's 16-month career atop the UAW disintegrating amid allegations he helped embezzle money and betrayed the union's roughly 400,000 active members.

Jones admitted wrongdoing after federal prosecutors and a team of investigators from the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and Labor Department portrayed him as a thief who tried to convince an underling to take the blame while obstructing the investigation. Investigators spent years building a case against him with undercover recordings, bank records and a team of former confidantes and senior UAW officers who cooperated with the government.