Detroit

UAW widow's lawyer rips feds in sentencing spat

Monica Morgan-Holiefield arrives Monday for arraignment at federal court in Detroit.
Monica Morgan-Holiefield arrives Monday for arraignment at federal court in Detroit.
John T. Greilick / The Detroit News
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Detroit — The widow of United Auto Workers Vice President General Holiefield stole nothing from taxpayers and is being wrongly attacked by federal prosecutors who have portrayed her as a jet-setting tax cheat and fraudster, her lawyer said Sunday.

The response from Monica Morgan-Holiefield's defense lawyer came four days before she could be sentenced to more than two years in federal prison for a tax crime intertwined in a widening federal investigation of the auto industry and labor movement.

A court filing from her lawyer Steve Fishman revealed an unusually public spat and illustrated the gulf between Morgan-Holiefield's lawyer, who wants her to serve a probationary sentence for a single tax crime, and prosecutors, who want her punished for the underlying conduct and illegal benefits they say she enjoyed. The benefits include more than $32,000 worth of flights, a $43,300 pool and $260,000 to pay off her mortgage.

On Friday, a federal prosecutors accused Morgan-Holiefield of stealing from taxpayers to support a lavish lifestyle and trying to buy her way out of prison by paying restitution and hiring one of the best criminal defense lawyers in Metro Detroit.

"First, Ms. Morgan stole nothing from other taxpayers by filing a false tax return, and only the government could view her payment of over $100,000 in restitution as nothing more than an attempt to buy her way out of prison," Fishman wrote. "Second, the government has no way of knowing (and no business commenting on) the fee, if any, that defense counsel may have charged Ms. Morgan."

Fishman also faulted the government for demeaning Morgan-Holiefield's supporters who wrote letters to the judge. The letters, including some from public officials, are sealed and Fishman has refused to release them to the media.

". . .  it is an insult of the highest order to refer to the citizens who wrote letters in support of Ms. Morgan as 'boosters,' thus implying that they are no different than people who contribute money to a college football team’s slush fund," Fishman wrote.

Morgan-Holiefield, 55, of Harrison Township, will be sentenced Friday by U.S. District Judge Paul Borman.

She pleaded guilty in February to filing a false tax return and prosecutors agreed to drop a five-year conspiracy charge and other counts related to a scandal involving Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and the United Auto Workers. 

The case against Morgan-Holiefield offered a detailed look at how, according to the government, officials at Fiat Chrysler tried to tilt contract negotiations in the automaker’s favor by lavishing labor leaders with first-class airfare, expense accounts and hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal payments. Some of the illegal payments to Morgan-Holiefield coincided with 2011 labor negotiations between Fiat Chrysler and the UAW, and were hidden behind an alias and sham companies, including a fake hospice.

The payments are central to an ongoing federal investigation that has led to criminal charges against seven people, caused upheaval at the top ranks of the auto industry and raised questions about the sanctity of labor negotiations.

Morgan-Holiefield pleaded guilty seven months after being indicted in the conspiracy.

Contrary to the government's claims, Morgan-Holiefield's guilty plea did not result from complex negotiations with prosecutors, Fishman wrote.

"The simple truth is that after no negotiations whatsoever, the government offered to dismiss the much more serious charge . . .," Fishman wrote. "No fuss, no muss, and nothing either complex or multi-faceted.

"This court is the last bastion of fairness for Ms. Morgan, who is in dire need of one," Fishman added.

rsnell@detnews.com

(313) 222-2486

Twitter: @robertsnellnews

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