A former Fiat Chrysler employee has pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and tax violations as part of a case that involves skimming money meant for training autoworkers into the pockets of labor union and company officials.
In the case that has implicated former US executives at the company and at the United Autoworkers Union, Jerome Durden, who worked as a financial analyst for the automaker's American subsidiary, reached a plea agreement with US prosecutors announced late Tuesday night.
And investigators revealed in court documents that they are still probing a number of other people in the alleged scheme to take money from a training program for union workers, including at least one other UAW employee.
Durden admitted that he and his co-conspirators used the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center as a conduit to conceal over $1 million "in prohibited payments and things of value" paid to UAW Vice President General Holiefield, who died in 2015, and other UAW officials, the court documents said.
And a US Labor Department official said in a statement that Durden had conspired to divert more than $4.5 million from a union training fund and failed to report taxable income.
"We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to combat crimes that deprive American workers of training opportunities," Labor Department investigator James Vanderberg said in a statement.
A Detroit grand jury in July indicted former FCA US executive Alphons Iacobelli, who was in charge of negotiating and administering collective bargaining agreements, and Holiefield's widow Monica Morgan.
Prosecutors alleged Iacobelli hid illegal payments and gifts over a five-year period ending in 2014, including designer clothing, jewelry and furniture, and paid off a $262,219 mortgage on Holiefield and Morgan's residence.
"Mr. Darden's criminal conduct was part of a broader pattern of dishonesty and collusion among those implicated in this investigation," the FBI's David Gelios said in a statement.
The ongoing federal probe comes at a time when the UAW has struggled to unionize new auto factories in southern US states.
Workers at a Nissan plant in Mississippi last week rejected a bid to join the UAW. The union criticized the auto maker for engaging in scare tactics, which included telling workers the union was just after their dues money.
And in 2014, workers at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee also voted against joining the UAW.
The union said it has 55,000 members in southern factories, accounting for 13 percent of its active membership.
Meanwhile, Fiat Chrysler is facing challenges of its own. European and US regulators allege some of its diesel cars also had "defeat devices" to cheat on emissions tests, similar to those Volkswagen admitted using.