Guilty UAW widow could get earlier prison release

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
Monica Morgan-Holiefield, center, is seeking to be released from prison early.

Detroit — The widow of United Auto Workers Vice President General Holiefield could be released from prison early because she has earned certificates behind bars for making cards, journaling and attending Bible study.

And Monica Morgan-Holiefield, a first-time, nonviolent offender, has a spotless record behind bars and has participated several activities and classes, including parenting, nutrition and Spanish, her lawyer argued in a federal court filing Thursday.

As proof, attorney Steve Fishman attached copies of certificates Morgan-Holiefield received while in a Kentucky federal prison.

Monica Morgan-Holiefield received this certificate while in a Kentucky prison

Fishman asked a federal judge to recommend Morgan-Holiefield be released early and sent to a halfway house. Morgan-Holiefield, 56, of Harrison Township has served more than seven months of an 18-month sentence after being convicted of a tax crime intertwined in a widening federal investigation of the auto industry and labor movement.

In a request to U.S. District Judge Paul Borman on Thursday, Fishman cited a federal law that allows inmates to be transferred to halfway houses as much as one year early.

She was the first person sentenced in a scandal that has led to the convictions of eight people and reshaped the top ranks of the auto industry as FBI agents investigate all three Detroit automakers.

The sentence capped the downfall of an accomplished 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.

"This was not some slip-up," Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gardey told the judge during sentencing in July. "It was a cold and calculated effort to get money for herself and her husband ... to satisfy simple greed."

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. The law also makes it illegal for labor leaders to accept such items.

UAW bribery probe focuses on trinket deals

Feds investigate UAW 'flower funds' in corruption probe

Morgan-Holiefield's sentencing hearing last summer illustrated the gulf between prosecutors and her defense lawyer. Fishman wanted her to serve a probationary sentence for a single tax crime, while the government wanted Borman to consider the underlying conduct and illegal benefits they say she enjoyed.

The benefits include more than $32,000 worth of flights, a $43,300 pool and $260,000 to pay off her mortgage.

Borman said the crime was not merely a straightforward tax offense.

"The defendant failed to report the source of income from criminal activity," he said.

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 had paid more than $100,000 in restitution and was unlikely to reoffend.

While behind bars, Morgan-Holiefield also has taught creative writing and public speaking classes at the prison, which has a list of notable former inmates that includes hotel magnate Leona Helmsley and MC5 co-founder Wayne Kramer.

The MC5 appear in an old publicity photo; back row, from left: Michael Davis, Wayne Kramer, Fred "Sonic" Smith. Front row: Dennis Thompson, left, Rob Tyner.

Borman's recommendation would not guarantee Morgan-Holiefield's release or shorten her sentence, which ends in February.

"A recommendation by this court that Ms. Morgan be granted additional halfway house time would be consistent with the policy of the Second Chance Act and allow her to re-enter society gradually by first returning to work," Fishman wrote.

Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway walks out of the Federal Building in Ann Arbor with her attorney Steve Fishman after her sentencing for bank fraud Tuesday afternoon. Photos taken on Tuesday, Monday, May 28, 2013.

Federal prosecutors do not object, according to Morgan-Holiefield's lawyer.

Similar requests have failed in recent years.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway unsuccessfully tried to get out of prison six months early in 2014. She was convicted of bank fraud and sentenced to one year and a day in prison.

Hathaway said she had made progress toward being rehabilitated and took credit for attending various activities and gym classes while behind bars, including yoga and "Sweating to the Oldies."

(313) 222-2486

Twitter: @robertsnellnews