Former FCA exec pleads guilty to conspiracy cover-up

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News
Michael Brown

Former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles executive Michael Brown pleaded guilty Friday to misprision of a felony, meaning he admitted to providing misleading and incomplete information to a federal grand jury when he knew of a conspiracy to violate the Labor Management Relations Act.

In charges filed in U.S. federal court in Detroit last month, Brown, 60, of West Bloomfield Township, was accused of lying to cover up a conspiracy involving auto executives funneling illegal payments to United Auto Workers leaders.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison, but under the plea agreement Brown can only be sentenced to 12-18 months. The plea agreement does not cover fines, a maximum $250,000.

As part of the plea, Brown has also signed a separate cooperation agreement, in which he can aid federal investigators without facing additional criminal charges.

Brown's sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 20.

Brown helped run the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center. In federal court Friday, Brown admitted to "providing misleading and incomplete information" while testifying in front of a federal grand jury in December 2015 in an attempt to cover up a conspiracy to violate the Labor Management Relations Act.

The plea agreement states that Brown knew of FCA executives including former FCA vice president Alphons Iacobelli and financial analyst Jerome Durden using credit card accounts and bank accounts associated with the National Training Center to conceal more than $1.5 million in "prohibited payments and things of value" to UAW officers and employees.

When asked about the conspiracy in court Friday, Brown said he was aware that FCA executives provided "things of value" to UAW officials and members that included funds, illegal payments, salaries for individuals who didn't do work and trips and vacations not related to work.

At the time, Brown was director of Fiat Chrysler's employee relations department.

He has since left the company, but Brown worked in a department that reported to Fiat Chrysler executive Michael Keegan, who took over as head of the Italian-American automaker's global communications in August.

FCA declined to provide comment on Brown's guilty plea.

Brown is the third former Fiat Chrysler official ensnared in an ongoing investigation that emerged publicly last summer and has since widened to Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. The conspiracy described by prosecutors raises questions about the sanctity of labor contracts negotiated between the UAW and Fiat Chrysler.

Two other former Fiat Chrysler executives have been charged and struck plea deals with federal prosecutors. They include former Fiat Chrysler executive Iacobelli, who prosecutors say bought a $354,000 Ferrari and two, rare $35,700 fountain pens with training center funds.

The other former FCA executive is Durden, who is alleged to have helped transfer millions of dollars in training center funds to the late UAW Vice President General Holiefield, widow Monica Morgan-Holiefield and Iacobelli.

Morgan-Holiefield struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors in February.

Brown co-directed the training center for a time with UAW counterpart Keith Mickens. Mickens was charged in March and accused of buying luggage, electronics, designer clothes and golf equipment with money that was supposed to help train blue-collar workers.

Mickens, 64, pleaded guilty last month, admitting he bought more than $7,000 worth of personal items with money that was supposed to help train workers and used more money to help Holiefield buy a pool.