Prosecutors recommend 14-month sentence for former UAW official Vance Pearson

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to sentence former United Auto Workers official Vance Pearson to 14 months in prison — lower than sentencing guidelines based on his cooperation with investigators — for his role in an embezzlement scheme that brought down the union's top leadership.

Acting U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin's office on Tuesday filed a sentencing memorandum and motion to reduce Pearson's sentence below the guideline range of 24 to 30 months. Prosecutors cited Pearson's "substantial assistance" in the case that has led to 15 convictions and six years of independent oversight of the union.  

They also are asking the court to order that Pearson make restitution of $250,000 to the UAW and forfeit $119,000. U.S. District Judge Paul Borman will weigh the recommendations at a sentencing hearing scheduled for July 6.

Vance Pearson

Pearson was a close aide to former UAW President Gary Jones. He succeeded Jones as director of the UAW's now-dissolved Region 5 based in Missouri.

Pearson pleaded guilty in early 2020 for his role in the racketeering enterprise that involved UAW officials embezzling money from members to pay for lavish personal expenses. He agreed to cooperate with an investigation targeting former presidents Jones and Dennis Williams, both of whom have since been convicted and sentenced.

Pearson's role in the scheme was to help other UAW officials embezzle funds from the union. The plea deal portrayed Pearson as carrying out orders from Jones and Williams to rent private villas and buy large amounts of cigars and alcohol, and covering up expenses by filing phony reports with the union.

"While Pearson was not the mastermind of this scheme, he did have an important role in it," prosecutors wrote in the sentencing memo.

Under the plea agreement, Pearson and the prosecution agreed to cap his sentence at no more than 30 months. He also agreed to forfeit $81,000 from a so-called "flower fund" and $38,000 from a "Members in Solidarity" fund.

Prosecutors wrote that Pearson — the final UAW official awaiting a prison term — "enjoyed substantially less than Williams and many of the other top UAW officials" and that the guideline range "was reduced based on his minor participation."

Still, they wrote, his "actions and inactions substantially harmed UAW members, retirees and the union itself." They describe someone who "ascended the ranks of the UAW" but who "lost himself in the culture of corruption."

Pearson, they wrote, "made decisions and took actions that have cast a stain on the UAW and even the labor movement in general. His criminal activity has undermined the trust that the UAW had built up with its members, with union workers, and even with the general public.”

In a motion for downward departure filed Tuesday, prosecutors detailed Pearson's role in assisting the investigation into other top UAW officials who were implicated in the scheme.

In a series of in-person and phone interviews, they said, "Pearson was candid both about his own criminal activity, and about others' actions." He reportedly informed investigators of the existence of the "flower fund" and "Members in Solidarity" account, and agreed to testify against other UAW officials if necessary.

The flower fund originally was established to pay for flowers for autoworkers' funerals, but prosecutors have said that senior staff were forced to contribute to the fund, The Detroit News previously reported. And money in the Members in Solidarity account was supposed to pay for UAW election expenses.

Prosecutors credited Pearson's cooperation with the decisions by Jones and Williams to plead guilty, and with the implementation of independent oversight of the union.

Jones in June was sentenced to 28 months in prison for failing to pay taxes and helping to steal as much as $1.5 million from members. Williams was sentenced in May to 21 months in federal prison for his role in the scheme.

Stolen funds were used on personal luxuries including private villas, steak dinners, alcohol and golf gear.

Under the consent decree between the Justice Department and the UAW, the union will be under the oversight of an independent monitor for six years and a referendum by members will determine whether top UAW officials will be directly elected by rank-and-file members going forward.

Twitter: @JGrzelewski

Staff writers Robert Snell and Kalea Hall contributed.