Ex-GM board member, UAW vice president pleads guilty in kickback scheme: Report

A former General Motors board member and United Auto Workers leader pleaded guilty Wednesday in a kickback scheme.

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Joe Ashton entered guilty pleas to charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, The Detroit News reported. Prosecutors are recommending a sentence of 30-37 months, but he faces a maximum possible penalty of $250,000 for each count plus a combined 30 years in prison.

Ashton’s attorney, Jerome A. Ballarotto, told the News that Ashton apologized to the union members and GM workers.

“Sometimes you find that good people just make bad decisions,” he said. “We will have at the time of sentencing an explanation of why he did this.”

Sentencing is scheduled for March 3, according to the report.

Joe Ashton, then vice president of the United Auto Workers General Motors department, speaks during an event at GM's assembly plant in Flint, Michigan, in 2011. (Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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Prosecutors said Ashton received thousands of dollars in kickbacks from a contractor who made watches for union members. And the watches — all 58,000 of them — remained in storage five years later.

In a statement, the UAW said Ashton's crimes “are against everything we stand for as a union, demonstrate his self-interest and signify his lack of respect for the oath he took to protect the sacred dues money of our UAW brothers and sisters.”

Ashton had been vice president of the UAW and headed the union’s GM department. He retired from the union in 2014 and joined the GM board as the union’s representative the same year.

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GM spokesman Jim Cain told The Detroit News that Ashton’s actions were “outrageous.”

“GM was not aware of his illegal activity until it was revealed by the government’s investigation, nor did we know that he continued to benefit from wrongdoing after the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust appointed him to the GM board — a position he resigned in December 2017,” Cain said.

More than a dozen people have been charged with crimes as a result of a federal investigation into the UAW and auto companies. In October, Ashton’s former aide, Jeffrey Pietrzyk, also pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

UAW officials said in a statement that its new leadership is “focused on reviewing and tightening policies and controls and implementing new measures to restore the full faith and trust of our more than 400,000 members across the country.”

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FOX Business' Evie Fordham contributed to this report.