An apologetic ex-United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams was sentenced Tuesday in Detroit to 21 months in prison for embezzling hundreds of thousands dollars from the union for lavish entertainment and personal expenses at conferences. He was also fined $10,000.
"He reinforced the upside down version of solidarity: 'Once I get to the top I'll get mine by taking yours'," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Cares at the virtual sentencing before U.S. District Judge Paul Borman.
The sentencing marked another stain on a proud union founded in 1935. The sentence comes one month before co-defendant, ex-UAW President Doug Jones, is set to be sentenced on June 8.
The sentencing of Williams, 68, of Corona, Calif., comes three years after he retired. His case is one of 15 convictions federal prosecutors chalked up in the probe into corruption into the UAW -- a union that had long been regarded as the gold standard for progressive unions.
Williams served as the president of the UAW from 2014 to 2018. Prior to that he was secretary-treasurer from 2010 to June 2014.
During his plea last September, he admitted conspiring with at least six other senior UAW officials in a multi-year conspiracy to embezzle money from the UAW for the personal benefit.
Specifically, he admitted to using UAW money to pay multi-month long stays at private villas in Palm Springs, cigars, golfing apparel, green fees at golf courses and high-end liquor and meals.
Speaking during Tuesday hearing, Williams, clad in suit and tie, read a statement, and at times appeared to get choked up as he talked about all his accomplishments, his love for the union and his regrets about his crimes.
"Most of all I want to apologize to the men and women of the UAW," he said. "I cannot express my sorrow about this ending. I feel foolish and embarrassed taking Gary Jones at his word when he said everything at the conference was above board. In my gut I knew better.”
"I lost my perspective about who I was and I what I was about. I'll always regret it."
Prosecutor Cares criticized Williams for pointing the finger at Jones, saying Williams “created an entitlement culture and crimes that left the UAW reeling. Abuses of power created a stain on the union that will take years to wash away."
"Mr. Williams has done good things, to be sure, and he should be commended for those good things including his military service," Cares added, but noted:
"He also planted seeds of mistrust in the psyches of current and future union members. He's made it exponentially harder for the UAW to maintain, let alone grow its influence."
Williams' attorney Terra Reynolds noted that Williams had reimbursed the union and paid the IRS taxes on his gains. She asked the judge that Williams be placed in a minimum-security federal prison in California.