By Ben Klayman
DETROIT (Reuters) – Former United Auto Workers Vice President Joseph Ashton on Tuesday was sentenced to 30 months in prison for accepting kickbacks as part of a wide-ranging federal corruption probe into the union.
Ashton, a former General Motors Co board member, pleaded guilty in December 2019 to conspiring with other union officials to receive “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks,” according to documents filed in U.S. district court in Detroit.
Ashton had faced prison time of 30 to 37 months under a plea agreement, but his attorney asked U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman for house arrest and a substantial fine instead.
Friedman said on a webcast of the hearing that there were too many victims and a message had to be sent.
“Punishment in this matter is important … for deterrence,” he said. “People have to know there’s a consequence.”
Ashton on Tuesday apologized to the union and his family.
“I cannot tell you how ashamed and remorseful I am for what I’ve done,” he said.
Ashton, who left the GM board in December 2017 amid the federal investigation, previously forfeited the $250,000 in kickbacks he received.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Detroit has been leading a corruption probe into the union that had led to 15 people being charged, including two former presidents. Prosecutors are talking with UAW leaders about reforming the union’s structure.
Federal prosecutors said Ashton and other UAW officials steered an inflated $4 million contract to a vendor to provide 58,000 watches to UAW members. The watches were never distributed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Frances Carlson said Ashton had been “motivated by pure greed.”
Due to the coronavirus outbreak and Ashton’s underlying health conditions, he doesn’t have to report to prison until next June, the judge said.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Steeve Orlofsky)