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Ford and Fiat Chrysler remain under federal investigation in union corruption probe

The Henry Ford II World Center, headquarters of the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan.

James Leynse | Corbis | Getty Images

DETROIT — Ford Motor remains under federal investigation as part of a multi-year corruption probe into the United Auto Workers union, according to the lead prosecutor on the investigation.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider told CNBC that the automaker and the UAW’s Ford unit remain targets in the probe, which initially started with Fiat Chrysler and its union counterpart.

“Ford and Fiat Chrysler, those investigations are still continuing,” he said Thursday during a phone interview. “You have to look at everything.” When asked whether the companies or their union departments remained under investigation, he said his team was “certainly not going to limit it to one or the other.”

Ford, in a statement, said: “As always, we would cooperate with any inquires.” Fiat Chrysler did not immediately respond for comment.

Schneider confirmed again that General Motors is not a target of the ongoing investigation, which was made public in July 2017. Federal prosecutors, at the company’s request this spring, confirmed GM was not a target of the investigation at that time. Schneider said companies and individuals can make that request to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Schneider’s comments come hours after prosecutors charged ex-UAW President Dennis Williams with embezzlement as part of the probe. Williams, 67, and at least six other senior UAW officials allegedly conspired to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars in lavish entertainment and personal expenses such as golf trips and high-end dinners in the cost of UAW conferences.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ deceased CEO Sergio Marchionne (R) and United Auto Workers union President Dennis Williams shake hands during a news conference in Detroit, Sept. 15, 2015.

Rebecca Cook | Reuters

Williams is the 15th person to be charged. All previous defendants, including three Fiat Chrysler executives and Williams’ successor, Gary Jones, have pleaded guilty.

Overall, Schneider says the case has uncovered millions of dollars in misused funds that were meant to benefit UAW members. “It’s disgraceful. It really is,” he said.

When the federal investigation was made public three years ago, it focused on a jointly operated training center between the UAW and Fiat Chrysler. But it quickly expanded to probes into similar operations with GM and Ford.

The probe widened to look at top union leaders embezzling union funds, money laundering and other illegal activities, which have led to discussions between Schneider’s office and UAW leaders regarding potential reforms.

In June, Gamble met with Schneider about reforming the union, including possibly using an independent monitor. Schneider said that remains on the table. He declined to comment on specific details of the talks, characterizing them as “progressing very nicely” and being “very productive.”

 “These are significant people committing federal crimes and we need to make sure this union is fully reformed so that it serves the men and women who work there,” Schneider said.

A UAW spokesman declined to comment, citing the union has agreed to not speak about the discussions.

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