Retired United Auto Workers official Jeff Pietrzyk, a former aide to retired UAW VIce President Joe Ashton, exits the U.S. courthouse in Ann Arbor, Mich., after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019.
Michael Wayland / CNBC
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — As United Auto Workers members with General Motors vote this week on a proposed deal that could end the marriage’s 37-day attack, one of their former brethren pleaded guilty for his role in an ongoing federal probe into corruption in the union.
Jeff Pietrzyk, a top aide of retired UAW Vice President Joe Ashton, a former GM board member, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. He’s the 10th individual to plead guilty in the widening federal probe which also has resulted in the arrest of a member of the union’s top governing board.
The corruption probe has added to some controversial year of contract negotiations between the union and Big Three Detroit automakers. Previous convictions included six individuals affiliated with the UAW and three Fiat Chrysler executives.
Pietrzyk, outside the courthouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan, told media “of course” he apologizes to UAW members for his offenses: “I’m sorry for what I did,” he explained.
Prosecutors recommended Pietrzyk, who retired from the union in 2014, function 24 to 30 weeks in prison for his crimes. Sentencing is scheduled for March 3. He’s required to cover $123,000 in restitution as part of his plea bargain.
Pietrzyk, 74, of Grand Island, New York, didn’t provide any explanation for his offenses. Robert C. Singer, Pietrzyk’s lawyer, repeated his client’s participation from the scheme was a lot more restricted compared to other people’s involvement.
“He was approached by someone who was in power over him and asked to do something and he did it,” Singer told reporters after the hearing. “And that wasn’t the best choice. It’s something that he regrets.”
Singer declined to comment on whether his client is cooperating with federal investigators.
Prosecutors accused Pietrzyk, whose base salary was upwards of $125,000, of conspiring with other union leaders to get hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks from vendors that made hats, shirts and other merchandise to the marriage, internally called “trinkets and trash.”
Pietrzyk’s guilty plea comes almost two weeks after one of his co-conspirators, Michael Grimes, a retired senior officer with the union’s GM division, pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud and money laundering.
Retired United Auto Workers official Michael Grimes, right, exits the U.S. courthouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan, after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. His lawyer Michael P. Manley has been interviewed in blue suit.
Michael Wayland | CNBC
Grimes and Pietrzyk were two of three union officials identified in court records unsealed Aug. 14 as receiving bribes and kickbacks from vendors. The Detroit News, citing anonymous sources, formerly identified the next person as Ashton. He hasn’t been charged.
Ashton — the first UAW leader on GM’s board — resigned from the board in December 2017 after allegedly being connected to the investigation.
Prosecutors haven’t identified any GM executives as being involved in the corruption, as they did with Fiat Chrysler.
The UAW’s 48,000 members with GM are voting on a tentative deal reached last week between the company and union through Friday.