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UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell addresses their Special Bargaining Convention held at COBO Hall in Detroit, Michigan March 25, 2015.Jeff Kowalsky/Reuters

A federal judge in Detroit on Monday sentenced the former United Auto Workers union vice president in charge of relations with Fiat Chrysler to 15 months in federal prison for misusing funds intended for worker training to pay for luxury travel and entertainment for himself and other union officials.

Norwood Jewell, who led the UAW’s negotiations with Fiat Chrysler in 2015, is the highest ranking UAW official to be sentenced in connection with a wide-ranging federal investigation of corruption within the union that represents U.S. factory workers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co.

Jewell pleaded guilty in April to a single charge of violating the Labor Relations Management Act. At the time, prosecutors proposed a prison sentence of 12 to 18 months. U.S. District Judge Paul Borman rejected Jewell’s request to avoid prison and serve his sentence under house arrest.

“He betrayed his position,” Borman said from the bench.

Federal prosecutors are continuing to investigate the misuse of company and union funds by top UAW officials at all three Detroit automakers. Fiat Chrysler Chief Executive Mike Manley, during a meeting with reporters last week, declined to discuss whether the company is in talks with federal authorities or whether he has been interviewed by investigators.

Federal prosecutors have said Fiat Chrysler officials conspired in the misuse of $4.5 million in training centre funds.

Fiat Chrysler’s former vice president of labour relations, Alphons Iacobelli, pleaded guilty in January 2018 to charges of violating the Labor Management Relations Act and filing false tax returns. Prosecutors charged Iacobelli with making hundreds of thousands of dollars in improper payments to charities controlled by UAW officials, and agreeing to pay off the mortgage of a now-deceased UAW vice president, General Holiefield.

Prosecutors charged that Jewell used a Fiat Chrysler National Training Center credit card and allowed other union officials to use credit cards tied to the centre to pay for tens of thousands of dollars in travel, meals and other items.

Jewell, in a statement to the court, portrayed himself as a leader betrayed by his staff, and sloppy in accounting for expenses.

However, prosecutor David Gardey said Jewell and other senior UAW officials enjoyed a “high-flying lifestyle” of golf, cigars, “premium liquor and fine steaks” on company and union money. Fiat Chrysler, Gardey told the court, wanted UAW officials to be “fat, dumb and happy.”

Mike Booth, president of UAW local 961, which represents a Fiat Chrysler axle plant in Marysville, Michigan, told Borman that Jewell and other UAW leaders who accepted company favours betrayed union members.

“This is not a victimless crime,” Booth said.

The UAW, in a statement issued on Monday after the sentencing, said the union’s new leadership “is determined to earn back our members’ trust” and “will draw the line on more concessions to an auto industry flush in profits.”

Local 961 has gone to court to block the transfer of the axle plant to a Fiat Chrysler supplier and has accused UAW officials of corruptly acquiescing to the sale.

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