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Disgraced UAW boss' life of luxury revealed ahead of sentencing

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
Norwood Jewell, center, leaves the U.S. courthouse  in Detroit after pleading guilty to breaking federal labor laws.

Former United Auto Workers Vice President Norwood Jewell betrayed blue-collar workers by pocketing tens of thousands of dollars in illegal payments from Fiat Chrysler executives so he could live like a "big shot" and "fat cat," federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

As proof, prosecutors revealed photos of the glamorous vacation spots and valuable gifts Jewell received from Fiat Chrysler executives trying to tilt labor negotiations in the automaker's favor.

The list of illegal benefits purchased with money that was supposed to be spent training workers included a $2,182 shotgun, $8,927 for a three-bedroom villa with a private pool and hot tub in Palm Springs, Calif., and a $25,065 "decadent" party with strolling models lighting labor leaders' cigars and wine bottles featuring Jewell's name on the label. He also spent UAW member dues on another three-bedroom villa and a pool in the desert oasis.

Fiat Chrysler paid for UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell to live in this three-bedroom villa with a private pool and hot tub in Palm Springs, Calif., for two months in 2016.

Prosecutors used the photos and tough words Tuesday to try to convince a federal judge to send Jewell to prison for 15 months. U.S. District Judge Paul Borman will sentence Jewell on Aug. 5.

"Through his actions, Jewell undermined and betrayed the confidence and trust the UAW’s members had placed in him to serve as their sworn representative in negotiations with Fiat Chrysler," Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gardey wrote in a sentencing memo Tuesday. "If that alone were not bad enough, Jewell’s actions also eroded public confidence in our country’s collective bargaining system and sullied the reputations of all honest trade unionists in the UAW."

UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell also used member dues to pay for another three-bedroom villa with a private pool in Palm Springs.

The ongoing corruption scandal entangling union training centers funded by all three Detroit automakers has demonstrated that Fiat Chrysler executives wooed union leaders with cash, gifts and other benefits. It also embroiled the late CEO Sergio Marchionne and led to a shakeup of the top ranks of the Detroit-based auto industry.

Money that was supposed to train blue-collar workers, instead, paid for a $2,182, Italian-made, Beretta shotgun costing for UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell as a birthday present in August 2015.

Jewell was one beneficiary of a broader plan by Fiat Chrysler executives to keep UAW leaders “fat, dumb and happy” and wring concessions favoring the automaker, according to the government.

For example, Jewell was in Palm Springs for two UAW/Fiat Chrysler conferences in early 2016. The conferences lasted a total of seven days but Jewell used the villa for two months. Fiat Chrysler spent almost $9,000 for the villa.

The next year, the automaker spent more than $2,000 for the villa while Jewell used member dues to cover the balance.

Fiat Chrysler also paid more than $5,100 so Jewell could fly first class to Palm Springs, where the automaker paid for 29 rounds of golf, golf club rentals, golf balls, meals, beer, and liquor for himself and other high-level UAW officials.

“Rather than the concerns of his membership, it is apparent that Jewell was most concerned with fancy meals, rounds of golf, and other perquisites of being at the highest level of the UAW’s leadership team,” the prosecutor wrote.

Jewell benefited in other ways.

Underlings Virdell King and Nancy Adams Johnson used their training center credit cards to buy the UAW leader the $2,182 shotgun as a birthday present in 2015, prosecutors said. Again, Fiat Chrysler paid the bill.

A UAW spokesman previously said Jewell was unaware that the shotgun was purchased with a training center credit card and that he later reimbursed the money.

Jewell is awaiting a possible prison sentence as Fiat Chrysler executives negotiate a settlement that would resolve a federal criminal investigation into whether executives conspired to pay bribes and break labor laws during a years-long conspiracy with the UAW. 

The negotiations are focused on Fiat Chrysler submitting to government oversight for up to five years, paying less than $50 million in penalties and agreeing to make broad institutional changes to emerge from a bribery scandal that has led to eight convictions.

Separately, Jewell's lawyer compared the UAW leader to the captain of the Titanic while urging the judge to spare Jewell a prison sentence.

"Norwood Jewell as 'captain of the ship' has accepted full responsibility for his actions and for not doing enough to monitor his subordinate’s behaviors and misdeeds," defense lawyer Michael Manley wrote in a sentencing memo Monday. "Many things have been said and written about Jewell’s role in this vast culture and the way business was conducted between the UAW and the various auto companies. Some of it true, some of it not.

"Whatever the court’s decision, Jewell, as an honorable leader, is prepared to go down with the ship that the government has effectively sunk."

Manley portrayed the former UAW leader as a victim of a corrupt culture within the union.

"The lavish expenditures, the fine cigars, the rounds of golf, the steakhouse dinners — those things were commonplace long before Jewell got to FCA," Manley wrote.

Jewell later forced Fiat Chrysler to audit the expenditures and helped implement new policies that conformed with federal labor laws, his lawyer added.

"Norwood Jewell is not a man of opulence," Manley wrote. "Quite the opposite: he’s a man of rather simple tastes. He’s a Miller Lite kind of guy."

Jewell received as much as $95,000 in illegal benefits, prosecutors wrote Tuesday, and deserves a prison sentence.

During a 2015 UAW party paid for with Fiat Chrysler cash, attendees received a wine bottle honoring union Vice President Norwood Jewell.

In April, Jewell pleaded guilty to breaking federal labor laws, becoming the highest-ranking labor leader convicted in an ongoing investigation of corruption within the U.S. auto industry.

"Instead of seizing the opportunity to zealously and honorably represent the interests of the union’s members and their families, Jewell chose to serve his own interests and to live the life of a big shot and fat cat," Gardey wrote.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2486

Twitter: @robertsnellnews