Court records: Fear of factory floor fed UAW corruption

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
UAW Solidarity House in Detroit.

Detroit — The top echelon of the United Auto Workers was so corrupt officials committed crimes out of fear they would lose six-figure jobs, travel perks and expense accounts and be forced to return to the factory floor, according to federal court filings.

Former UAW leaders described a culture of blind obedience during a widespread conspiracy involving the union, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the jointly operated UAW-Chrysler National Training Center.

Details of life within the top ranks of the UAW emerged in court filings as three people convicted in the corruption scandal face sentencing Wednesday and as prosecutors signal more people could soon be charged with crimes.

The trio includes Clarkston resident Keith Mickens, 65, the right-hand man of former UAW Vice President General Holiefield. Mickens struck a plea deal with prosecutors in April, admitting he bought more than $7,000 worth of personal items with money from Fiat Chrysler that was supposed to help train blue-collar workers and used more money to help Holiefield buy a pool.

In all, Mickens approved more than $700,000 in illegal payments from Fiat Chrysler to Holiefield and Holiefield's wife Monica Morgan, part of a broader plan by the automaker to keep labor leaders "fat, dumb and happy," according to the government.

Former UAW official Keith Mickens, 65, of Clarkston could spend up to 16 months in federal prison.

"The culture of the UAW staff at the NTC under the Holiefield administration was one that you were expected to do what your superiors asked of you," Mickens' lawyer Robert Sheehan wrote in a court filing. "The consequences of a failure to do as you have been told would have quickly led you back into a factory and to be ostracized by UAW leadership."

Prosecutors want U.S. District Judge Paul Borman to sentence Mickens, who was paid $127,569, to spend 16 months in federal prison. His lawyer is pushing for probation.

“This investigation and prosecution has revealed that there was a culture of corruption in the senior leadership of the United Auto Workers union,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gardey wrote in Mickens' sentencing memorandum. “Leaders of the UAW viewed the National Training Center as a mechanism to take apparently unlimited and illegal payments from Fiat Chrysler for their own personal benefit, for the benefit of the union itself, and for their own lavish entertainment.”

Federal prosecutors have secured the convictions of seven people linked to a conspiracy in which the government says Fiat Chrysler executives funneled cash and things of value to UAW officials in an attempt to influence the collective-bargaining process. The money was funneled through the jointly operated UAW-Chrysler National Training Center, prosecutors said.

One of the Fiat Chrysler executives, financial analyst Jerome Durden, could be sentenced to 15 months in federal prison Wednesday. Prosecutors want to delay the start of his sentence to he can keep assisting with the ongoing investigation and possibly secure a lesser sentence.


"Durden is engaged in ongoing cooperation in the criminal investigation of other individuals and entities concerning illegal payments made by FCA and its executives to the UAW and its union officials," Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin Shaw wrote in a court filing.

Durden, 62, of Rochester, who served as controller of the training center, filed misleading tax returns that concealed the labor conspiracy.

"During Durden’s tenure ... FCA and its executives gave millions of dollars to UAW officials and the union itself in order to buy labor peace," Shaw wrote.

He also served as treasurer of Holiefield's sham charity, the Leave the Light On Foundation.

During a six-year period, the National Training Center funneled more than $386,400 to the charity.

Monica Morgan and her late husband General Holiefield.

"The stated purpose of (the foundation) was to raise money to be used for charitable and community activities, but in reality, the (foundation) was used to direct additional prohibited payments to UAW Vice President General Holiefield and his mistress, Monica Morgan," Shaw wrote in a court filing.

Holiefield died in March 2015 before he could be charged with a crime. Morgan, his widow, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for failing to report income funneled through the training center, including $32,000 worth of flights, a $43,300 pool and $260,000 to pay off her mortgage.

Michael Brown, a former Fiat Chrysler executive who helped run the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center, will be sentenced Wednesday for helping cover up a conspiracy involving auto executives funneling illegal payments to union leaders.

Michael Brown

Brown, 61, of West Bloomfield Township, deliberately provided misleading and incomplete testimony during the investigation. Prosecutors want him to spend 12 months in prison but he could receive a break because he continues to cooperate with investigators.

"The United States strongly recommends a delayed reporting date to allow Brown to continue his ongoing cooperation and avail himself of this potential opportunity for a sentencing reduction in the future," Shaw, the federal prosecutor, wrote in a court filing.

A second former UAW official will be sentenced Nov. 13. Former UAW labor executive Virdell King, 66, of Detroit pleaded guilty last year, admitting she bought as much as $15,000 worth of items using a credit card account linked to the training center.

Virdell King

"In addition to making personal purchases, Ms. King regularly was asked by superiors, including Mr. Holiefield, his successor Norwood Jewell, and Mr. Jewell’s administrative assistant Nancy Johnson ... to make improper purchases that personally benefited them and which totaled at least another $25,000-$30,000," King's lawyer John Shea wrote in a court filing.

King should not be sentenced to prison, her lawyer wrote.

"Persons like Ms. King are beholden to their superior, and if such a person outlasts her or his welcome that person is demoted or, worse, terminated from the International (UAW) and, if the person wants to keep the union job, sent back to the plants," Shea wrote. 

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