Ex-UAW VP Norwood Jewell implicated in UAW-FCA scandal

Norwood Jewell, who began leading the UAW-Chrysler Department in June 2014, is one of only two union vice presidents to hold that position during the focus of the investigation. Photo credit: Bloomberg

DETROIT — Former UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell, who headed the most recent round of contract negotiations with FCA US, has been implicated in the widening, multimillion-dollar corruption scandal involving the union and Fiat Chrysler.

A plea deal released last week between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and former FCA US labor relations chief Alphons Iacobelli does not name Jewell; however, it indirectly identifies him. It also names Jewell’s charity as one of several to allegedly receive restricted funds.

Jewell, who abruptly retired at the end of last year, has not been formally named or charged with any crimes.

Attempts to reach Jewell this week were unsuccessful. An unknown individual who answered the Ohio phone number listed for Jewell’s charity said he “can’t help” with any questions.

A UAW spokesman declined to comment directly on the implications. An FCA spokesperson was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.

Iacobelli, according to the plea deal, admits that he and other FCA executives and employees transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars “in prohibited payments” to tax-exempt organizations controlled by UAW officials, including Jewell’s Making Our Children Smile Foundation.

The money was allegedly siphoned through the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center, which is funded by the automaker and jointly operated with the union.

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The plea deal also says Iacobelli authorized salary reimbursements, along with “a fraudulent 7 percent administrative fee” as a “political gift to the Vice Presidents of the UAW Chrysler Department” — a statement that implicates Jewell.

Jewell, who began leading the department in June 2014, is one of only two union vice presidents to hold that position during the focus of the investigation, from January 2009 to July 2015.

Feds have identified Jewell’s predecessor, General Holiefield, as being a key figure in the $4.5 million scandal. Holiefield, who died in March 2015, led the department from June 2006 to June 2014.

Holiefield’s charity, the Leave the Light on Foundation, was another tax-exempt organization named in Iacobelli’s plea deal. It previously had been identified by federal officials as a way of funneling money to union officials and Holiefield’s wife, Monica Morgan, one of four charged in the case so far.

The others charged, in addition to Iacobelli, are Virdell King, a retired UAW associate director, and Jerome Durden, a former FCA financial analyst who served as treasurer of Holiefield’s charity and as controller of the UAW-Chrysler training center from roughly 2008 to 2015.

All aside from Morgan have pleaded guilty as part of plea deals and await sentencing. She is scheduled for a plea hearing on Feb. 6. in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Federal officials, according to a source familiar with the investigation, conducted a search of Jewell’s home late last year.

Prosecutors contend FCA employees and executives such as Iacobelli paid union workers through the charities and other methods, including training center credit cards, to influence union business, including collective bargaining negotiations in 2011 and 2015.

The UAW, including President Dennis Williams, has adamantly denied such activities could have influenced the union’s bargaining process.

“There’s just no truth to the allegation that the terms of the collective bargaining agreement were compromised by Iacobelli’s crimes,” Williams wrote Friday in a letter to union members. Williams argued, “Iacobelli’s case is one of personal greed, plain and simple.”

Following the investigation being made public, the union made changes to its charity practices, including banning UAW-affiliated nonprofits to take donations from the UAW and the joint program centers. The UAW has not stopped allowing personal charities, however several union officials reportedly have let their state registrations expire.

The UAW announced in November that Jewell, 60, would retire and not seek re-election — an unusual, if not unprecedented, occurrence. UAW officers younger than the mandatory retirement age of 65 typically seek re-election and step down only at the end of a term, which would have been in June for Jewell.

In August, The Detroit News reported that he received a $2,180 shotgun bought with union training center funds as a birthday present.

The UAW has said Jewell paid for the gun after finding out it was bought with the training funds.

Nancy Johnson, Jewell’s top administrative assistant, reportedly instructed King to pay for the gun with a training center credit card.

Making Our Children Smile

Jewell’s charity was started in 2014 — the same year he became a union vice president.

The Making Our Children Smile board initially included Jewell; Johnson, who served as vice president of the nonprofit from 2014 to 2015; and Troy A. Davis, another UAW top administrative assistant. Two additional board members, including another UAW official with the training center, were added in 2015.

The purpose of Making Our Children Smile, according to tax filings, was to raise and distribute funds to “benefit children, veterans, and seniors, as well as the poor, caring for the sick” and to support other philanthropic efforts and organizations.

The charity, according to the filings, received $629,450 from 2014 through 2016, though individual donors are not identified in the filings.

At the end of 2014, the charity reported a balance of $126,803, while donating $30,081 to three organizations: Wayne Elementary School in Detroit ($14,081 in books and clothing); Downtown Outreach Ministry in Flint, Mich. ($10,000); and Child Safe Michigan in Royal Oak, Mich. ($6,000).

Donations, according to the filings, increased five-fold to $152,666, in 2015 before falling to $121,846 the following year.

Davis has been secretary and treasurer of the nonprofit since its inception. According to the filings, he was the sole signer of its tax returns until 2016, when a third party was paid to prepare the document.

Shane Dawes, who was assistant director of the UAW-Chrysler training center under Jewell, was added to the board along with another individual in 2015.

Expanding case

Iacobelli, 58, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Labor Management Relations Act and subscribing a false tax return.

The investigation started with the UAW-FCA training center but has since expanded to similar operations with Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, where Iacobelli was employed following FCA.

GM and Ford said in November they were cooperating with federal investigators who have subpoenaed information about their training centers with the UAW.

No union or company officials with GM or Ford have been formally named or charged with any crimes.

The Detroit News reported in November that federal officials were “interested” in Joe Ashton, a retired UAW vice president who was appointed to GM’s board in 2014, and Cindy Estrada, his successor in charge of the union’s GM department.

Estrada remains in her position, while Ashton resigned from the GM board in December. He was designated for nomination by the VEBA, which at the time owned about 140 million GM shares.