DETROIT — Gary Jones strode onstage in downtown Detroit for the first time as president of the UAW in June 2018 to the Rocky theme song, thrusting his fist into the air and promising members that he'd "fight for you."
He didn't pick the music himself — some union leaders later complained it wasn't as enthusiastic as they'd have liked — but if anyone in the UAW fancied Jones the Italian Stallion, they were sorely mistaken. In this movie, he's the bad guy who gets knocked out at the end.
His 28-month prison sentence for embezzlement and tax evasion handed down Thursday proved that the only thing Jones had in common with Rocky Balboa were connections to the criminal underworld. If you remember, Philly's favorite fictional boxer started off as muscle-for-hire for a local mob boss to make ends meet.
Jones had bigger illicit ambitions.
The 63-year-old certified public accountant hoodwinked auto workers out of millions from 2010 to 2019, prosecutors discovered. That money paid for villas in Palm Springs, Calif., Titleist golf clubs, Louis Roederer Cristal champagne and Diamond Crown Churchill cigars, among other luxuries.
Jones, along with his co-conspirators, did a lot of golfing and ate a lot of steak on members' dime. Fighting for them? Not so much.
Sure, he occasionally talked tough, telling Detroit 3 executives at the start of 2019 contract negotiations that the union was the "voice of the American worker" and "defender of the middle class."
But throughout his tenure as president, he barely used that voice.
Jones avoided reporters whenever possible, ending quarterly media briefings.
During the contract talks and ensuing 40-day strike of General Motors, he was nowhere to be found, choosing instead to send out underlings to the picket lines and news conferences as the corruption scandal closed around him.
During the 2019 Labor Day parade in downtown Detroit, normally a big deal for the UAW punctuated at the end by a speech from the president, Jones failed to march the entire route, hustling off with other union officials about halfway through.
I made my way through the crowd to where he stood at the start of the parade and asked him to comment on the corruption scandal and the recent FBI raid of his home.
"No," was all he'd offer.
As Jones prepares to get comfy in his cell at the federal correctional institution in Seagoville, Texas, he might want to watch the "everybody can change" speech from Rocky IV — it's good advice.
To be fair, he may already have gotten that message. Prosecutors noted his "broken and contrite heart" in advocating for a reduced sentence.
Let's hope his contrition is sincere and that his sentencing really is, as current UAW President Rory Gamble said Thursday, the end of "a very dark chapter" in the union's history.
Because when it comes to criminals like Jones, much like with the Rocky movies, I think we can all agree it's best if there are no more sequels.