Holiefield widow makes surprise move to appeal tax conviction
Detroit — The widow of UAW Vice President General Holiefield moved Tuesday to appeal her conviction stemming from the corruption scandal involving the union and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.
The surprise move by Monica Morgan-Holiefield came more than two weeks after she was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. She did not cite any grounds for the appeal, but the only option available under terms of her plea deal with federal prosecutors is ineffective assistance of counsel, a long-shot attempt in most cases, legal experts said Tuesday.
The move Tuesday could backfire and result in Morgan-Holiefield standing trial on additional charges and receiving a stiffer sentence.
"Judges are suspicious of defendants who have buyer’s remorse," said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor.
Morgan-Holiefield, 55, of Harrison Township, was the first person sentenced in a scandal that has led to seven convictions and reshaped the top ranks of the auto industry as FBI agents investigate all three Detroit automakers.
She pleaded guilty earlier to a federal tax crime in February and, in exchange, prosecutors dropped four other charges, including a conspiracy count punishable by up to five years in prison.
Morgan-Holiefield filed the notice of appeal by herself and does not have an attorney, according to federal court records.
“There’s an old line that says half of being a good lawyer is telling your client 'you’re a damn fool,'” Henning said. “A good lawyer would say ‘(this appeal) is not going to go anywhere and I’m not going to take your money.’”
During the criminal case, she was represented by Detroit attorney Steve Fishman, who is generally regarded as one of the most experienced and skilled criminal defense lawyers in town.
Fishman did not respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday.
“I expect the goal is to get a shorter sentence but that is going to be a very tough row to hoe,” Henning said.
The 18-month sentence capped the downfall of Morgan-Holiefield, a photographer who prosecutors say succumbed to greed, living a high-flying lifestyle with money flowing from a conspiracy involving Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and the UAW.
The scandal has aired damning allegations about Fiat Chrysler and the UAW conspiring to violate the Labor Management Relations Act, which prohibits employers or those working for them from paying, lending or delivering money or other valuables to officers or employees of labor organizations — and makes it illegal for labor leaders to accept such items.
At sentencing, Fishman pushed for Morgan-Holiefield to serve a probationary sentence for a single tax crime. The government wanted U.S. District Judge Paul Borman to consider the underlying conduct and illegal benefits they say she enjoyed, including more than $32,000 worth of flights, a $43,300 pool and $260,000 to pay off her mortgage.
Morgan-Holiefield benefited "handsomely" from illegal payments from Fiat Chrysler to her late husband and used shell companies to hide the income and criminal activity, prosecutors said. The payments were part of a broader effort by Fiat Chrysler to keep UAW leaders "fat, dumb and happy" and wring concessions favoring the automaker, according to the government.
In pushing for a 27-month prison sentence, prosecutors labeled Morgan-Holiefield a fraudulent tax cheat who stole $190,000 from taxpayers to bankroll a lavish lifestyle. Her lawyer said Morgan-Holiefield should be spared prison because she has paid more than $100,000 in restitution and is unlikely to reoffend.
Morgan-Holiefield also was fined $25,000 and ordered to pay $190,747 in restitution.