DETROIT — General Motors' effort to resuscitate its racketeering lawsuit against rival Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has lobbed more salacious allegations against former UAW leaders, calling a onetime top negotiator a "paid mole" on GM's board and accusing officials of taking bribes from secret international bank accounts. The automaker also claims a former FCA labor relations executive it hired turned out to be a corporate spy.
GM-FCA spat messier as revised suit names UAW officials
The latest salvo sparked a fiery denial from former UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, who previously had stayed silent as federal investigators unearthed evidence of widespread corruption within the upper ranks of the union in the decade since he retired. Gettelfinger has not been named or implicated by prosecutors, but GM's amended complaint claims he received payouts from FCA through accounts in Panama and Switzerland in his name and the name of a family member.
"Neither I nor any member of my family have ever received one cent from a foreign account like GM claimed. Never," Gettelfinger wrote in a letter released by the union. "I may be retired but I am not dead. GM has deep pockets for sure, but I will put my integrity up against theirs any day of the week. I retired after 451/2 years of work in the auto industry and in our union. I pride myself on honesty and integrity and I will not sit idly by while GM maliciously and falsely attacks me."
GM's initial lawsuit, filed in November, accused FCA of coordinating a yearslong bribery scheme with UAW leaders to gain an unfair labor cost advantage. Last month, U.S. District Judge Paul Borman dismissed the case, which he had called a distraction for the companies and a "waste of time and resources."
The suit labeled some former UAW officials as co-conspirators, but GM General Counsel Craig Glidden said in November that GM had decided against naming the UAW and its leaders as defendants because FCA was the "common denominator" in bribes that went to numerous recipients.
Now, GM has reversed course, naming former UAW President Dennis Williams and former UAW Vice President Joe Ashton, who later sat on GM's board, among a total of seven defendants. FCA US, FCA NV and former FCA officials Alphons Iacobelli, Michael Brown and Jerome Durden were defendants originally.
GM's filing in U.S. District Court in Detroit accuses FCA and others of "corporate espionage" that directly hurt GM. GM says Ashton was a "paid mole" inside its boardroom and claimed that Iacobelli, after being hired by GM in 2016, funneled information to FCA, where he previously worked.
The amended complaint says FCA used a broad network of foreign bank accounts containing millions of dollars in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Italy, Singapore and the Cayman Islands to bribe the officials to share information that could be used to harm GM.
GM said it was unaware of the accounts when it filed the November lawsuit. It planned to gather banking information during formal discovery, a stage the case never reached. GM hired investigators to obtain the banking information, which took several months amid the coronavirus pandemic, the filing said.
The UAW said in a statement last week that it was unaware of the foreign accounts.
"If GM actually has substantive information supporting its allegations, we ask that they provide it to us so we can take all appropriate actions," the UAW said.
FCA continued to call the lawsuit "meritless."
GM says Ashton, Williams and Iacobelli received money from the offshore accounts. It says FCA also bribed General Holiefield, who ran the UAW's Chrysler department from 2006 to 2014, and Gettelfinger, who was UAW president from 2002 to 2010, with substantial payouts from the accounts. Holiefield died in 2015.
After Gettelfinger denied the accusations, GM spokesman Jim Cain said the automaker stood by its filing.
Williams, who headed the union from 2014 to 2018, has been implicated in the government's ongoing investigation into the UAW but has been not charged with a crime. His successor, Gary Jones, pleaded guilty to corruption charges in June and federal guidelines indicate a sentence of about four years in prison.
Ashton, who was appointed to GM's board in 2014 by the union's retiree health care trust and resigned after becoming implicated in the corruption probe, is awaiting sentencing by a federal judge after pleading guilty in December to wire fraud and money laundering.
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