What UAW's Gary Jones, Teamsters, Conor McGregor have in common: Lawyer

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
Gary Jones, United Auto Workers president, speaks during the opening of their contract talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on July 16, 2019.

Detroit — United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, whose home was raided during a nationwide crackdown on auto industry corruption, has hired a criminal defense lawyer who represented the International Brotherhood of Teamsters after the union was linked to organized crime and subjected to government oversight, The Detroit News has learned.

Jones has hired New York lawyer J. Bruce Maffeo, a former state and federal prosecutor, according to two sources familiar with the investigation who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Attorney J. Bruce Maffeo

Maffeo served as outside counsel for the Teamsters during a period of government oversight that lasted more than two decades. That experience is viewed by legal experts as valuable to Jones considering a years-long corruption investigation of the U.S. auto industry that has led to nine convictions, a federal raid at his home and exposed the UAW to the same potential fate as the Teamsters.

Maffeo, 66, of Brooklyn, has deep ties to unions, experience handling corruption cases and high-profile clients, including mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor. In the 1980s, Maffeo was assigned to the Justice Department's Organized Crime Strike Force in New York, a team that prosecuted union corruption and organized crime, and he handled the first major prosecution stemming from the savings and loan crisis.

It is unclear whether Jones hired the lawyer after the raids last week, which should have sent a message to the UAW president, legal experts said.

“At that point, you would have to view yourself as a potential subject or target of the investigation,” said Birmingham lawyer Keith Corbett, the former chief of the federal Organized Crime Strike Force in Detroit. “It is reasonably prudent to secure counsel at that point.

“He’s hiring somebody who’s got extensive experience not only in organized crime but labor racketeering.”

Bruce Maffeo, right, seen in 1999, has been hired as the defense attorney for UAW President Gary Jones

Maffeo's experience working for the Teamsters and General President James P. Hoffa is notable, legal experts said.

Maffeo has served as the union's outside counsel during prolonged government oversight of the Teamsters. Thirty years ago, the U.S. Attorney's Office and Teamsters settled a civil racketeering lawsuit to keep mob influence out of the 1.4 million-member union.

The suit alleged the Teamsters had made a "devil's pact" with organized crime and was dominated by the Mafia. The federal government gained control of the Teamsters by way of a consent decree settling racketeering and corruption charges that federal officials brought against Teamsters officials.

The settlement resulted in the removal of more than 200 Teamsters officers in the first three years of the consent decree, including 50 local union presidents.

The nationwide raids involving the UAW last week and federal prosecutors accusing the union of conspiring to break federal labor laws amplify the possibility the federal government could assume oversight of the UAW, experts told The News.

Maffeo's hiring "implies that Jones is expecting the government to really come after him,” said Erik Gordon, a University of Michigan business professor. “If you think the government is going to try and put you in jail, you want a guy who will keep you out of jail, even if you know you’re innocent.”

Maffeo and a spokeswoman for his law firm Cozen O’Connor did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Through a Teamsters spokesman, Hoffa said he did not play a role in Jones hiring Maffeo.

Maffeo also is an officer with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 37, New York City’s largest municipal union, and is responsible for probing corruption allegations involving the union's 120,000 members.

Federal agents are investigating Jones for a variety of potential crimes, including financial dealings involving the nonprofit charity he founded and whether he or other union officials spent almost $1 million of membership dues on condominiums, liquor, food and golf during conferences in California, sources told The Detroit News.

Jones has not been charged with wrongdoing amid the four-year-long investigation.

A UAW spokesman declined to comment about Maffeo and whether union dues paid by blue-collar workers are being spent on the lawyer's services.

The federal investigation has been costly for the UAW.

Before the raids last week, the UAW had spent more than $1.5 million in member dues defending the union from allegations that labor leaders demanded and received bribes and conspired to violate federal labor laws.

The union's annual Labor Department filing revealed a portion of the cost of a scandal that has tarnished the UAW's reputation and raised questions about the sanctity of labor negotiations. The scandal also has exposed union executives who wasted training funds on personal luxuries, including $1,000 pairs of designer shoes, and betrayed rank-and-file workers by receiving kickbacks and bribes from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles officials and vendors.

"We’ve been forced to pay these legal fees because of the actions of people who’ve pled guilty," UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg told The News in April. "These expenses are lawyers representing the union. It is President (Gary) Jones' goal to make reforms that will prevent this kind of expenditure from being needed in the future."

Jones is linked to several threads of the corruption investigation.

Besides his home, where federal agents were spotted counting wads of cash inside Jones' garage, investigators also searched his former UAW regional office in Missouri, where his nonprofit charity is headquartered. Federal agents also searched the home of UAW Region 5 Director Vance Pearson, who helped oversee Jones' nonprofit.

"The execution of the search warrant at his home sends a message that Jones is caught up in a significant criminal investigation, so that’s why you want your own lawyer," said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor.


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