Sentence next for ex-UAW leader who embezzled, lived large

DETROIT — A welder who rose from the factory floor to become president of a venerable U.S. labor union is facing a prison term for luxurious winter stays in the California sun covered by dues paid by his blue-collar members.

Dennis Williams, who led the United Auto Workers from 2014 to 2018, will appear in federal court Tuesday, the latest in a line of union officials who acknowledge betraying members through corruption.

Williams pleaded guilty to an embezzlement scheme that turned union dues into a pot of cash for golf, lodging and fancy meals.

The UAW’s Region 5 leadership, based in St. Louis, typically held winter meetings in Palm Springs, California. Williams turned the three-day event into a personal retreat during his tenure, even staying as long as four months in 2017, according to the government.

While railing against excesses in corporate America, Williams was ordering fine meals, sipping champagne and lighting big cigars in vacation villas, all while scheming to cover it up, prosecutors said in recommending a two-year prison sentence.

“Williams has cast a stain on the UAW,” the government said in a court filing. “He undermined the trust that the UAW had built up — with its members, with union workers, and even with the general public.”

Williams’ lawyers said he has repaid $132,000 to the UAW. They’re asking for a sentence of a year and a day, the minimum term to qualify for good behavior credits and a shorter prison stay.

“He has lost his career, his reputation, and will soon lose his freedom. He has been punished much longer than the time he will serve in prison,” Williams’ attorneys said.

Williams, who turns 68 Wednesday, wasn’t the only UAW president caught in corruption. His successor and golf pal, Gary Jones, also pleaded guilty and awaits a sentence.

Eleven union officials and a late official’s spouse have pleaded guilty since 2017, although not all the crimes were connected. The first wave of convictions, which included some Fiat Chrysler employees, involved taking money from a Fiat Chrysler-UAW training center in Detroit.

Follow Ed White at