DETROIT — Former UAW President Gary Jones on Wednesday pleaded guilty to federal embezzlement and racketeering charges, a landmark development in the yearslong corruption investigation into one of the country's leading labor unions.
Jones, appearing in U.S. District Court by video conference wearing a dark suit and navy blue tie, admitted to stealing money from the membership he was elected to lead.
"I recognize that my actions violated the law as well as my sworn obligation to my fellow union members," Jones, 63, said in a prepared statement. "I apologize to my UAW family for this betrayal of trust and pray that they will forgive me."
In pleading guilty, Jones promised to cooperate with investigators as they continue to probe the union for financial impropriety.
He could receive up to 10 years in prison, although the two parties said Wednesday they had agreed to a sentence of 46 to 57 months, or a little less than half of the maximum. If Jones provides substantial assistance, his time could be reduced further, prosecutors said. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 6.
Jones agreed to forfeit about $32,000 seized from his home last year, about $81,000 from his "flower fund" and about $31,000 from another union account. He also agreed to forfeit a set of Titleist golf clubs seized from his home that prosecutors said he bought with UAW money.
The guilty plea was delayed multiple times as the coronavirus crisis upended normal court procedures. Jones was arraigned by video conference last month, where he was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond.
Jones resigned from the union in November as the investigators zeroed in on him. He becomes the 14th person to plead guilty in connection with the federal investigation that has uncovered a wide-ranging conspiracy to steal union funds and spend them on expensive champagne, cigars and other luxuries. The scandal has snared two retired vice presidents in addition to a onetime top negotiator at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, who leads the investigation, has indicated the probe is not yet complete and has not ruled out a potential federal takeover of the union. Rory Gamble, Jones' successor as UAW president, is attempting to avoid that fate by reforming the union from within, although Schneider has said those efforts don't go far enough.
"With UAW President Gary Jones' guilty plea today, we move into a new phase of the Justice Department's investigation of the UAW," Schneider said in a statement Wednesday. "While our criminal cases and the investigation of criminal conduct by individuals and entities continue, we will shift our focus to reforming the UAW so it serves the working men and women of the union first and foremost. I look forward to meeting with UAW President Rory Gamble as soon as possible to have these important discussions."
Gamble has indicated that he is open to speaking with investigators.
Gamble on Wednesday said the union is more powerful than one individual.
"Former President Gary Jones and others abused their high-ranking positions and violated the trust of our members. Their actions were selfish, immoral, and against everything we stand for as a union," he said in a statement. "As we close this chapter, we will continue to focus on implementing the necessary reforms to protect our members. Since my appointment as president, the UAW has instituted and operates under new transparency including far-reaching ethical and financial oversight and accountability. While these reforms are just the beginning, they are significant and will be expanded upon to ensure the crimes we've seen never happen again."