DETROIT — The former president of the United Auto Workers pleaded guilty Wednesday to an embezzlement scheme, saying he suspected that union dues were being used for golf, lodging and fancy meals but “deliberately looked away” and enjoyed the bounty.
Dennis Williams is the latest senior leader at the UAW to plead guilty in the government’s investigation of corruption in the union’s upper ranks. The probe has resulted in the convictions of 11 people, including another former president, Gary Jones, plus a late official’s spouse.
“As I have often said, the hard-working men and women of the UAW deserve so much better,” said Steven D’Antuono, head of the FBI in Detroit.
Williams, who joined the union as a welder in Rock Island, Illinois, in 1977, rose to become secretary-treasurer of the UAW and then president from 2014 until he retired in 2018.
Williams, 67, was accused of conspiring with others to cover up the source of cash for boozy meals, premium cigars, golf and lodging in Palm Springs, California.
The union’s Region 5 leadership, which was based in Missouri and headed by Jones, would hold weeklong retreats in Palm Springs and invite Williams along. He said he stayed beyond “what my union business required.”
Williams told a judge that he wondered if money was being misused but that he was assured by Jones that “everything was above board.”
“I made the deliberate and conscious decision not to press the matter. … I could have investigated the source of these funds or directed my staff to do so,” Williams said. “It was my duty as a UAW officer to do so. But I deliberately looked away.”
More than $22,000 in union money was used to rent a villa for Williams for a four-month period in 2016-17, the government said.
With about 400,000 members, the Detroit-based UAW is best known for representing workers at Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Ford Motor.
The union said Williams repaid $55,000 in inappropriate travel expenses. Separately, the UAW is selling a lakefront house built for him at a union conference center in northern Michigan.
Williams “put his personal and self-interest above that of our members and this union,” the UAW said Wednesday.
Jones, who was president for about 18 months, pleaded guilty in June.