Former VP of UAW’s General Motors Department, Joseph Ashton, pleads guilty in bribery scandal

Ashton becomes 11th person to plead guilty in UAW corruption investigation

DETROIT – Joseph Ashton, former vice president of the UAW’s General Motors department, became the 11th person to plead guilty Wednesday in the union’s massive bribery scandal.

Ashton pleaded guilty to conspiring with other UAW officials to engage in fraud by taking $250,000 in bribes and kickbacks from vendors and conspiring to launder the money, U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said.

Details of scheme

Ashton, 71, of Ocean View, New Jersey, is accused of being involved in the conspiracy from 2012 to 2016. During his plea hearing, Ashton admitted to conspiring with Michael Grimes and Jeffrey Pietrzyk -- two former high-level UAW officials in the GM department who previously pleaded guilty to the same crimes, officials said.

The trio conspired to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks from vendors doing business with the joint UAW-GM Center for Human Resources, according to authorities. The center is supposed to train UAW workers employed by GM.

Ashton was the co-director of the Center for Human Resources, official said. He, Grimes and Pietrzyk also served on the executive board for the center and were responsible for approving contracts with the vendors, officials said.

Ashton admitted he and two other UAW officials demanded and accepted bribes and kickbacks from a vendor based in Philadelphia in exchange for a contract to provide custom watches to the Center for Human Resources, according to authorities.

They demanded kickbacks on the $3.9 million contract to buy 58,000 watches for all UAW members employed by GM, officials said. The demand was for more than $250,000 in kickbacks on the watch contract, to be distributed between 2013 and 2016, according to officials.

Some kickbacks were distributed through checks paid to Ashton, officials said. He deposited them into his personal bank account, according to authorities.

The center received the 58,000 watches from the vendor in 2014, bu they were never distributed to UAW members, court records show. Instead, the watches have been sitting in storage in a warehouse for more than five years, according to officials.

Ashton also admitted to conspiring to conceal the scheme through a series of complex financial transactions, officials said.

UAW officials involved

Ashton is the 11th person to plead guilty in connection with the ongoing investigation into illegal payoffs to UAW officials by FCA executives and corruption within the union, according to authorities.

Here are the other UAW officials who have already pleaded guilty to a role in the scheme and been sentenced:

  • Former FCA Vice President for Employee Relations Alphons Iacobelli -- 66 months in prison
  • Former FCA Financial Analyst Jerome Durden -- 15 months in prison
  • Former Director of FCA’s Employee Relations Department Michael Brown -- 12 months in prison
  • Former senior UAW official Virdell King -- 60 days in prison
  • Former senior UAW official Keith Mickens -- 12 months in prison
  • Former senior UAW official Nancy A. Johnson -- 12 months in prison
  • Former senior UAW official Monica Morgan, the widow of UAW Vice President General Holiefield -- 18 months in prison
  • Former UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell -- 15 months in prison
  • Pietrzyk -- pleaded guilty and awaiting sentencing
  • Grimes -- pleaded guilty and awaiting sentencing

Federal officials weigh in

“The hard-working members of the UAW deserve to be represented by union officials dedicated to providing honest representation free of corruption and greed, and today’s guilty plea is another step in the right direction,” Schneider said.

“Joseph Ashton abused the power of his position in the UAW to brazenly demand kickbacks from a vendor," said Detroit Special Agent in Charge Steven D’Antuono. “His actions deprived union members of the honest services they expect and deserve from those who are elected to make decisions in the union’s best interest. The FBI is committed to fighting such corruption, which does real and lasting damage to the trust union members should have in their elected leadership.”

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.