UAW official charged in conspiracy advising on worker deal with GM

Robert Snell Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — A United Auto Workers senior officer is advising the team negotiating a new contract with General Motors Co. while facing criminal charges that he conspired with union President Gary Jones and others to steal member dues.

Vance Pearson

UAW Region 5 Director Vance Pearson attended negotiations in Detroit on Sunday, three days after federal prosecutors charged him with helping orchestrate a more than $1 million conspiracy that involved stealing dues and spending the money on personal luxuries, two sources told The Detroit News.

Pearson, 58, a former Jones aide who also serves on the union's governing board, is not a member of the UAW-GM national bargaining team. He attended negotiations but did not vote on the strike, which began at 11:59 p.m. Sunday. 

UAW Region 5 Director Vance Pearson, center, walks into a UAW meeting Sunday at the Renaissance Center.

Pearson was photographed by The News walking into a meeting at the Renaissance Center on Sunday.

"Are you Vance Pearson?" a reporter with The News asked him.

"No, ma'am," said Pearson, who is free on bond but expected to attend a federal court hearing related to the criminal case Tuesday in Missouri.

Rich LeTourneau, shop chairman of Local 2209, which represents about 4,000 members at GM's Fort Wayne Assembly Plant, confirmed that Pearson was at a meeting Sunday with about 200 leaders of local UAW units discussing how to move forward in negotiations with GM. Following the meeting, the UAW called for its members to strike at 11:59 p.m. Sunday.


The meeting stuck to negotiations, he said. There was no discussion about the federal investigation into UAW corruption.

When asked if he thought it was strange Pearson attended the meeting given the charges against him LeTourneau said: “Everyone is innocent until proven guilty in this country.”

Pearson, a Saint Charles, Missouri, resident, served on the board of directors overseeing Jones' charity and succeeded Jones as director of the region. Pearson, arrested Thursday, is the 10th person charged in a widening corruption investigation of the UAW.

Federal agents also are investigating Jones for a range of potential crimes, including financial dealings involving the nonprofit charity he founded and whether he or other union officials spent member dues on junkets to California, sources told The Detroit News.

FBI eyes Jones' charity, UAW officials' California junkets

The criminal case focuses on lavish spending by UAW officials during conferences in Missouri and California and provides the most detailed government account of alleged misspending in Palm Springs, including $120,000 for cigars, steak dinners and drinks, and 107 rounds of golf. The News exclusively reported the government's interest in Palm Springs in September 2018.

From 2014 to 2018, a period that covers Jones' tenure leading UAW Region 5, Pearson and other leaders submitted phony expense forms seeking reimbursement from UAW headquarters, prosecutors said in an affidavit. The phony expenses were supposedly tied to UAW Region 5 leadership and training conferences.

Region 5, which covers 17 states stretching from Missouri to California, was headed by Jones until he was elected UAW president last year. Pearson and other unnamed UAW leaders used the conferences to conceal the use of hundreds of thousands of dollars of union member dues to pay for entertainment and personal expenses, according to the affidavit.

Federal investigators searched Pearson's home and office Aug. 28 during a series of nationwide raids in four states. A team of federal agents from the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and Labor Department also searched Jones' home in Canton Township, the California home of former UAW President Dennis Williams and the home of former Williams aide Amy Loasching in Wisconsin.

FBI investigators leave the home of UAW President Gary Jones after a search on Wednesday, August 28, 2019 in Canton Township.

Jones and Williams, who retired last year, are unnamed union officials accused in a federal criminal case of participating in the conspiracy, The News reported last week.

According to an affidavit by Labor Department Special Agent Andrew Donohue filed in federal court, UAW officials allegedly:

• Paid $400,000 to rent and clean private villas with private pools and hot tubs in gated communities for weeks at a time. But the UAW conference hosted there lasted only three days.

• Paid $60,000 between 2016 and 2018 on meals at LG’s Prime Steak House and Johnny Costa’s Ristorante outside the scheduled dates of the conferences. That included more than $6,599.87 for a New Year's Eve meal in December 2016, $1,942 on liquor, $1,440 on wine, a $1,100 tip and a purchase of four bottles of Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne for $1,760.

UAW President Gary Jones, left, received an award in 2018 for raising money for the union's political action committee from former UAW President Dennis Williams, right. Both of their homes were raided by federal agents Aug. 28.

• A master account was allegedly used to pay Indian Canyons Golf Resort $80,000 between 2015 and 2018 for people identified only as "UAW Official A." That included thousands of dollars spent at the resort’s pro shop on clothing, golf bags and shoes. The affidavit says that the UAW paid for 107 rounds of golf outside the conference dates at a cost of almost $9,000 to UAW membership.

• Through the master account, the affidavit alleges UAW officials spent $60,000 on cigars, humidors and cigar cutters between 2014 and 2018.

• Using a similar account, the UAW spent $70,000 on golf at The Maderas Golf Club, The Grand Del Mar Golf Resort and The Torrey Pines Golf Club.

• Federal agents also found a similar arrangement at the Lodge of Four Seasons in Lake Ozark, Missouri, where more than $45,000 was spent by the UAW outside of conference dates in Lake Ozark on meals and liquor.

• The UAW spent $50,000 on two parties thrown “under the guise that they were dinners" for the International Executive Board, the union's governing body. That included “thousands of dollars of ‘ultra-premium’ liquor, cigars, a torcedor (a person who rolls cigars) and ‘kandy girls’ (provocatively dressed women) to light the cigars for the UAW officials. If that alone were not enough, training funds were also spent on mojito tables and decorations to theme the event like the 1980’s hit T.V. show Miami Vice.”

Twitter: @robertsnellnews