FCA/UAW scandal widens as 5th person charged

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit – The UAW public corruption prosecution widened Tuesday as a former labor leader was accused of buying luggage, electronics, designer clothes and golf equipment with money that was supposed to help train blue-collar workers.

UAW logo

Keith Mickens, 64, of Detroit, a former senior UAW official assigned to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, is the fifth person charged in a corruption scandal that has led to four convictions. Mickens was charged in a criminal information, which means a guilty plea is expected.

Keith Mickens

He was charged in federal court with violating the Labor Management Relations Act, a five-year felony. The law prohibits employers or those working for them from paying, lending or delivering money or other valuables to officers or employees of labor organizations — and from labor leaders from accepting such items.

His attorney declined comment Tuesday.

The charge is the latest in a conspiracy that has led to a shakeup at the highest levels of the U.S. auto industry and which raised questions about the sanctity of labor negotiations that determine pay, benefits and working conditions for thousands of workers.

The charge, like the others, is part of a scandal involving UAW training centers funded by all three Detroit automakers.

Mickens is accused of conspiring with Alphons Iacobelli, a former Fiat Chrysler labor executive, the late UAW Vice President General Holiefield and others. Mickens served as Holiefield’s administrative assistant and left the UAW in 2015.

The conspiracy ran from 2010 until 2015 and involved Fiat Chrysler officials giving money and valuable items to UAW officials, according to prosecutors.

Iacobelli, former Fiat Chrysler analyst Jerome Durden and others used the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center bank accounts and credit cards to hide the payments to Mickens and others, including former senior UAW official Virdell King, according to the government.

Prosecutors allege that Iacobelli and other UAW-Chrysler training center officials created a liberal spending policy to keep senior UAW leaders “fat, dumb and happy.”

In May 2011, Mickens and others arranged for Holiefield’s then-girlfriend to fly first-class from Michigan to California, according to federal court records. The trip cost more than $2,100 and was paid for with training center funds.

The date of the trip matches an allegation that first emerged last summer when prosecutors indicted Iacobelli and Holiefield’s widow, Monica Morgan-Holiefield.

Iacobelli and Morgan-Holiefield have pleaded guilty for their roles in the scandal and are awaiting sentencing in federal court.

From 2012 to 2015, Mickens, Holiefield and others continued using training center credit cards to pay for personal purchases, according to court records.

In January 2013, Mickens used his training center credit card to buy more than $1,000 worth of luggage, according to the government.

By 2014, Mickens had spent more than $6,500 in training center funds on electronics, designer clothes and golf equipment for himself and other UAW leaders, according to court records.

Mickens also served as vice president of Holiefield’s charity Leave the Light on Foundation as recently as 2013. Prosecutors said the charity was used to conceal payments to Holiefield from Fiat Chrysler.

“We are deeply disappointed by the illegal misconduct alleged in today’s charge against Keith Mickens, a former UAW staff person," UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said in a statement. "The scheme set out in the charge against Mr. Mickens did not affect the negotiation of the terms of our collective bargaining agreements or involve the loss of any union funds.”

Durden and King, meanwhile, are awaiting sentencing in federal court after striking plea deals with federal prosecutors.

Durden helped transfer millions of dollars in training center funds to Holiefield, Morgan-Holiefield and Iacobelli. He faces up to 37 months in prison and is expected to cooperate with prosecutors.

King, who admitted misusing funds that were intended to train and retrain blue-collar workers, faces up to 16 months in prison and is expected to cooperate with the investigation.