UAW watchdog gets access to secret files as Jones seeks prison break

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A federal watchdog tasked with reforming the United Auto Workers is reviewing secret government files related to an ongoing criminal investigation and is expected to meet with convicted former union President Gary Jones, who is angling for a reduced prison sentence.

Federal court records provide a glimpse into the early days of UAW oversight by court-appointed watchdog Neil Barofsky and reveal details about how Jones hopes to shorten his stay in federal prison. Jones won a brief reprieve from prison so he can meet with Barofsky before starting a 28-month sentence as early as next month for embezzling union money.

United Auto Workers' Solidarity House in Detroit.

Jones has cooperated with the criminal investigation — he helped prosecutors convict his predecessor, retired UAW President Dennis Williams — and plans to meet with Barofsky, according to an order filed in federal court.

“(Jones) has done everything he can do to try and pay back the debt he owes to the union, his family and society,” Jones' lawyer, Bruce Maffeo previously said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Grand has given Barofsky access to sealed federal search warrant records involving raids at Michigan locations during the years-long investigation, according to an order filed in federal court.

That includes searches authorized at the Rochester Hills home of former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV Vice President Alphons Iacobelli, former UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell's house in Swartz Creek and the Harrison Township home of Monica Morgan-Holifield, widow of the late union Vice President General Holiefield.

Prosecutors wanted to share the search warrant materials, including applications, affidavits listing probable cause and lists of seized items, but said the records should remain sealed from the public.

“Some of the overall investigation remains pending,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Cares wrote.

Federal prosecutors in recent months have signaled several, unidentified targets remain under investigation.

In an earlier court filing, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gardey, who heads the office's public corruption unit, wrote: "The government has not yet completed its criminal investigation of all targets of the UAW corruption investigation."

The scope of the investigation is unclear. The Detroit News, however, previously linked two additional UAW officials to the investigation.

Cindy Estrada, left, and Jimmy Settles

They are:

• Retired Vice President Jimmy Settles, who ran the union's Ford Motor Co. department. The News reported last year that investigators were probing financial ties between Settles and one of the union's highest-paid vendors.

Investigators have questioned members of Settles’ staff and issued grand jury subpoenas, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Settles' lawyer, Steve Fishman, declined comment Monday.

• UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who oversees the union's Stellantis department. The News reported in November 2017 that investigators were interested in former Vice President Joe Ashton and Estrada, who previously oversaw the union's General Motors Co. department. 

The investigation was focused on whether training funds were misappropriated, and if labor leaders at GM and Ford received money or benefits through their tax-exempt nonprofits.

Neither Settles nor Estrada — who in June withdrew from consideration to become the UAW's new secretary/treasurer, the second most powerful position within the union — has been charged with wrongdoing.

Estrada's lawyer, Daniel Collins, previously told The News that Estrada is "not a target" but provided no proof and did not respond when asked if he had received assurances from prosecutors.

Twitter: @robertsnellnews