Former top aide charged in federal UAW-FCA training center probe
DETROIT -- A former top aide of ex-UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell who was part of the union's 2015 contract negotiations with FCA has been charged with accepting tens of thousands of dollars in illegal payments provided by the automaker.
The U.S. Justice Department alleges top administrative assistant Nancy Johnson was part of a more than $4.5 million corruption scandal that involved union officials accepting goods, services and money from the company to take company-friendly positions.
Johnson, 57, is the sixth to be charged in the federal probe, including two former FCA US employees and four affiliated with the union.
An 18-page indictment released Wednesday charges Johnson -- who the UAW said was "removed" from the union in July 2016 -- with five counts of criminal violations, including conspiring to violate the Labor Management Relations Act. She faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and a fine up to $250,000.
Others charged in the case are former FCA labor relations chief Alphons Iacobelli, Monica Morgan-Holiefield, the widow of deceased former UAW Vice President General Holiefield, former FCA financial analyst Jerome Durden, ex-UAW official Virdell King, and Keith Mickens, a senior official in the UAW Chrysler Department. All previously named defendants aside from Mickens, who was recently charged, have pleaded guilty as part of plea deals.
Jewell, who abruptly retired at the end of last year, has been implicated in the scandal but not formally named or charged by investigators.
Iacobelli, according to his plea deal, admitted that he and other FCA executives and employees transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars "in prohibited payments" to tax-exempt organizations controlled by UAW officials.
The indictment charges that between 2014 and 2016, while Johnson held the second-most senior position in the UAW Chrysler Department, she illegally spent money slated for a training center on designer clothing, first-class travel for herself and associates, and golf gear.
Many charges, including a large portion of the expenses listed in the indictment from California, occurred ahead of 2015 collective bargaining negotiations between the automaker and union. Johnson, according to the indictment, flew first class in December 2014, at a cost of $1,914, from Michigan to Palm Springs. That same month, Johnson paid $2,382 per ticket to fly her and an associate, known in the indictment as "LR," to Los Angeles.
Johnson instructed King to spend $1,259 on luggage for Johnson at London Luggage Shop in Detroit, the indictment reads.
Also at Johnson's direction, feds say, King purchased a $2,182 Italian-made Beretta shotgun at Field & Stream in Troy, Mich. The gun was then gifted to Jewell.
Trip to Palm Springs
In January 2015, in Palm Springs, Johnson spent more than $1,800 at Indian Canyons Golf Resort, $4,587 for a meal at LG's Prime Steakhouse, $1,652 at Cardiff Limousine, and more than $1,800 at St. John Knits and other retail stores in the city.
Johnson spent $1,217 on salon and spa services, $1,518 on graphite golf clubs and a cart bag from Amazon.com, and $1,160 at Neiman Marcus for a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes.
In September 2015, Johnson spent $6,912 at the London Chop House in Detroit.
"As a former UAW official, Nancy Johnson chose personal greed over promoting individual leadership through her participation in a 'pay to play' scheme to enrich herself at the detriment of union members she represented," said Jeffery Peterson, acting special agent in charge, Detroit Division of the FBI, in the statement.
FCA declined to comment on Wednesday's action.
In a statement Wednesday, the UAW said: "The illegal misconduct alleged in today’s indictment is appalling and runs counter to the values our union has upheld for more than 80 years. Ms. Johnson was removed from the union in July 2016. There is no evidence that compromised individuals involved in this investigation, including Ms. Johnson, in any way corrupted the negotiations of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
"Every CBA goes through numerous hands, including the Presidents, the elected UAW-FCA National Negotiators and the UAW-FCA Council which is comprised of the top Local Union Leadership representing members from FCA, before being voted on and ratified by the membership."
The investigation has also caused federal officials to investigate similar operations at Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, but no one from those organizations has been charged.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.