UAW Vice President pleads guilty to corruption.
Retired United Automobile Workers (UAW) Vice President Joseph Ashton, a powerful union boss and former General Motors board member recently pleaded guilty to corruption. Ashton admitted he drafted a $4 million contract for 58,000 custom-made UAW watches and pocketed $250,000 in kickbacks after offered to divert funds to his friend and chiropractor, Jeffry Pietrzyk. According to court records, the watches cost less than $2.3 million to make, but the contract was for $3.97 million. Ashton admitted before a federal judge that he knew what he was doing was wrong.
Ashton was charged in November with wire fraud and money laundering and ultimately pleaded guilty to both before U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman. He is now facing 30 to 37 months in prison under a plea agreement.
“He’s very regretful for what he has done. The UAW was the center of his professional life, and he’s very regretful for making this mistake,” Ashton’s New Jersey attorney, Jerome Ballarotto, said, adding, “He has asked me to apologize to all the members of the UAW. Joe Ashton has spent 50 years working for the workers of the UAW.”
Ballarotto said of his client’s mistake, “Sometimes in life, you find good people do bad things…his was a bad decision. He fully accepts responsibility for what he did.”
Federal prosecutors argued, “Ashton used his position to benefit himself, his family and friends, and outside businesses. He did this with the help of two associates who collectively took advantage of a training center jointly operated by the UAW and General Motors. Ashton and his two cohorts steered contracts to vendors to make commemorative UAW trinkets with money that came out of the training center. In return, the vendors paid Ashton and his UAW accomplices bribes and kickbacks. And they were careful not to get caught.”
Prosecutors added that the vendor wrote “antique furniture” or “furniture” in the memo lines on checks he gave Pietryzyk in order to hide the transactions. According to court documents, Pietryzyk received four checks totaling $70,000, which he split with another party to the scheme, Michael Grimes.
Ashton’s co-defendants, Grimes and Pietrzyk, have already pleaded guilty. The case was only one small part of a much larger corruption probe that has now implicated former UAW President Gary Jones and the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources. Ashton was also on the center’s board, which will now close.
“Joe Ashton’s actions, as set forth in the government’s filings, are completely inexcusable and violate UAW’s long-standing standards of conduct put in place by former leaders like Walter Reuther,” interim UAW President Rory Gamble said. “The UAW remains focused on negotiating and finalizing strong contracts for our members, especially during this round of auto negotiations.”
“GM is deeply disturbed by Joe Ashton’s alleged criminal conduct,” GM said in a statement. “GM was not aware of this illegal activity until it was recently revealed by the government’s investigation, or that he allegedly continued to benefit from this conduct after the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust (VEBA) appointed him to the GM Board, a position he resigned in December 2017.”