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Detroit — Federal prosecutors signaled Monday they continue to investigate other top officials within the United Auto Workers for corruption as former union vice president Norwood Jewell was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for accepting bribes.

The disclosure comes four years into an investigation that has shown union leaders received cash and other benefits, including lavish trips, private villas and other perks paid by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles executives bent on wringing concessions from the union.

The ongoing investigation follows reports by The Detroit News that federal agents are probing whether UAW leaders received kickbacks after giving business executives contracts to produce union-branded clothes and trinkets.

Investigators have expanded the inquiry to all three Detroit automakers and also are focused on whether senior UAW staff were forced to contribute to accounts originally established to buy flowers for autoworkers' funerals, and whether union leaders kept the cash.

Prosecutors revealed the ongoing investigation during a tense sentencing hearing for Jewell, the disgraced former UAW leader who received as much as $95,000 worth of illegal gifts and benefits from Fiat Chrysler executives during a years-long labor conspiracy.

Jewell, 61, lacks remorse, willingly betrayed blue-collar workers so he and other top UAW officials could live lavishly and refused to cooperate with investigators, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gardey said Monday.

"That shows where he placed his loyalty," Gardey told U.S. District Judge Paul Borman. "Not with (UAW) members and their families but with other high-level officials under investigation."

The sentence caps a prolonged downfall of an ambitious UAW leader who jockeyed to succeed former UAW President Dennis Williams but retired amid questions about self-dealing and a lifestyle bankrolled by auto executives who were trying to tilt labor negotiations in the automaker's favor.

Jewell received illegal gifts and benefits from Fiat Chrysler executives that included a $2,182 shotgun, $8,927 for a three-bedroom villa with a private pool and hot tub in Palm Springs, California, a $25,065 "decadent" party with strolling models lighting labor leaders' cigars and wine bottles featuring Jewell's name on the label.

The Swartz Creek resident is the highest-ranking former UAW leader convicted of a crime during a prosecution that has led to prison sentences for eight people, including Alphons Iacobelli, Fiat Chrysler's former top labor negotiator.

"The trust and confidence members had in leadership has been shattered," Gardey said.

The sentence marked a crossroads for the investigation, in which several of those convicted are cooperating with investigators.

One of those people, former Jewell aide Nancy Adams Johnson, told investigators that Williams directed subordinates to use funds from Detroit’s automakers, funneled through training centers, to pay for union travel, meals and entertainment. 

As part of a plea agreement last year, Adams Johnson told investigators Williams made the directive to relieve pressure on the union’s budget. 

"It's an ongoing investigation and we're not done," U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider told reporters outside court. "We will continue to work on this until we're confident that we have leadership in the UAW that represents the men and women of the union and does what they're supposed to do."

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The ongoing corruption scandal entangling also embroiled the late CEO Sergio Marchionne and led to a shakeup of the top ranks of the Detroit-based auto industry.

Jewell was sentenced 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 the bribery scandal.

Two portraits of Jewell emerged Monday. His lawyer portrayed the UAW vice president as a negligent dope, consumed by responsibilities and betrayed by crooks in the union's top ranks.

Jewell trusted underlings to protect him but they, instead, let Fiat Chrysler executives pay for lavish meals, travel and entertainment for Jewell and other senior UAW officials, defense lawyer Michael Manley told the judge.

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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. Robert Snell, The Detroit News

"Was he asleep at the switch? Absolutely," Manley said. "Was he a crook? Absolutely not."

Manley asked for Jewell to serve any prison sentence at home, which the judge rejected.

"What this man has suffered through ... is worse than a prison sentence," Manley said.

Jewell said his true crime was failing to have the UAW pay for various expenses like $6,000 steak dinners, golf and private villas in Palm Springs.

"I did not take anything for myself," Jewell told the judge. I am proud of my career. I never compromised the collective-bargaining process.

"I stand before you a very humbled man," he added.

Prosecutors called Jewell greedy, saying he knowingly conspired to betray rank-and-file members so he could live a lavish lifestyle.

"This wasn't negligence," Gardey said. "This was corruption and greed. ... It's about a betrayal of trust, greed and ambition."

In April, Jewell pleaded guilty to breaking federal labor laws.

The UAW responded to Jewell's sentencing in a statement.

"The UAW's leadership is determined to earn back our members’ trust with our Clean Slate reform agenda and a take-no-prisoners approach at the bargaining table, where we will draw the line on more concessions to an auto industry flush in profits,” union spokesman Brian Rothenberg said. 

Several UAW local leaders attended the sentencing, filling the rows in Borman's courtroom.

UAW Local 961 President Mike Booth requested that Jewell serve up to 18 months, saying he failed to represent rank-and-file members.

"This was never a clerical error," Booth said. "This was greed and gluttony."

rsnell@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2486

Twitter: @robertsnellnews

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