Feds paint bullseye on ex-UAW leader Norwood Jewell
Detroit — Former United Auto Workers Vice President Norwood Jewell is among "lots of individuals and entities" under criminal investigation by the federal government in connection with a wide-ranging labor conspiracy, a prosecutor said Friday.
The disclosure from Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin Shaw helps define the broad outline of an ongoing investigation that involves the UAW and Detroit's three automakers and is the latest confirmation that investigators are scrutinizing Jewell's tenure overseeing the union's Fiat Chrysler Automobiles department.
The disclosure emerged Friday during a court hearing involving restitution owed by convicted Fiat Chrysler Vice President Alphons Iacobelli. Iacobelli, 59, of Rochester Hills was sentenced last fall to 5 1/2 years in federal prison.
The investigation is at a public crossroads because all seven people charged so far have been convicted and sentenced to prison.
"Our case is ongoing," Shaw told U.S. District Judge Paul Borman during the hearing. "We are still investigating lots of individuals and entities."
Borman asked about Jewell.
"And he's on the list of people in the spotlight?" the judge asked.
"Yes," Shaw said.
Jewell's lawyer Joseph Duffy did not respond to a message seeking comment Friday.
It is possible Fiat Chrysler, the UAW and a jointly operated training center could be charged with crimes. That’s because federal prosecutors have labeled all three as co-conspirators in a widening corruption scandal.
The allegation, contained in multiple federal court filings, also could lead to fines and governmental oversight.
Federal prosecutors have said the union and Fiat Chrysler conspired from before 2009 through 2015 to violate the Labor Management Relations Act and the automaker enabled nepotism to flourish at a blue-collar training center. The law prohibits employers or those working for them from paying, lending or delivering money or other valuables to officers or employees of labor organizations — and from labor leaders from accepting such items.
The hearing Friday came two months after The News reported that Jewell tapped a worker training fund to pay for more than $10,000 worth of golf resort accommodations in Palm Springs, California, and Disney World tickets and that federal agents were investigating the spending spree, according to multiple sources.
The Palm Springs discovery is part of a broader focus on how UAW officials spent training funds from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and member dues on condominiums, liquor, extravagant meals and golf in the desert oasis. UAW officials spent almost $1 million in member dues from 2014 to 2016 in Palm Springs, where Gary Jones held annual conferences before becoming president in June.
The Palm Springs and theme park expenses are described by sources as examples of illegal benefits flowing to UAW officials during a years-long conspiracy to violate federal labor laws. The conspiracy involved Fiat Chrysler executives funneling cash and gifts to UAW officials in hopes of swaying contract negotiations and keeping labor leaders "fat, dumb and happy," according to the government.
Tour golf courses and resorts frequented by UAW officials in Palm Springs, Calif., where the union has spent more than $1 million in recent years. (Video: Robert Snell, The Detroit News)
Four sources familiar with the investigation help unmask Jewell as "UAW-3," a recurring figure referenced in hundreds of pages of criminal filings as a high-ranking union leader who received approximately $50,000 worth of lavish gifts and benefits from Fiat Chrysler executives.
The gifts include an Italian shotgun and a $30,000 party that featured strolling models who lit labor leaders' cigars, all paid for with Fiat Chrysler cash that was supposed to be spent training blue-collar workers.
Prosecutors are armed with evidence including bank documents, credit card records, emails and testimony from at least six former Fiat Chrysler and UAW officials.
Others have been linked to the investigation, including UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada.
In late 2017, The News revealed federal agents had expanded a corruption investigation to include a member of General Motors Co.’s board and the United Auto Workers training centers funded by all three Detroit automakers.
Investigators were interested in Estrada and her predecessor Joe Ashton, a retired UAW vice president appointed to GM’s board in 2014, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
Since that disclosure, Ashton resigned from GM's board and Estrada was transferred to replace Jewell as head of the UAW's Fiat Chrysler department.
Neither Ashton nor Estrada has been charged with a crime.