Laborers Union Head Under Fire

November 6, 1997

Filed at 6:34 p.m. EST

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A former federal prosecutor hired to fight corruption within the Laborers union accused the union's president of having ties to organized crime and receiving kickbacks from a vendor.The allegations were filed with another former prosecutor who serves as the union's disciplinary officer under a deal the Laborers signed with the Justice Department to avoid racketeering charges in 1995.

In a written statement, Robert Luskin said he had accused Arthur Coia of knowingly associating with members of the mafia, permitting mob members to influence union affairs, and accepting benefits from an unnamed vendor.

Luskin said the activities in question occurred between 1986 and 1993, and that he had decided against suspending Coia pending a hearing ``because all of the most serious allegations concern historical misconduct.''

Officially, Coia was accused of violating the union's ethical practices code and the charges were filed before Peter Vaira, the union's independent hearing officer. A hearing date had not been set.But Luskin coordinated his investigation with federal prosecutors, who retained the right to prosecute union officers and seize control of the union if the government is unsatisfied with the internal cleanup efforts.

A federal grand jury in Boston is also weighing evidence against Coia. Late last month, Coia promised to fight union disciplinary charges rather than resign.``When all the evidence is presented, when the truth is brought forward, I will be totally, completely and finally vindicated,'' he said in a letter to union officials.

Congressional Republicans have criticized the Justice Department's decision to allow the union to sweep its own ranks before filing racketeering charges, noting that the Laborers' were big donors to Democrats.

Coia cultivated a personal relationship with President Clinton and was a top supporter of the administration's failed health care reform effort.But Luskin has argued that the internal cleanup is working. Proof, he suggested last month, lay in his aggressive investigation of Coia.``We have said for three years that a central part of the reform process is pursuing aggressively every credible allegation against Coia, and he has said as much himself,'' Luskin said.

Coia's father was a top Laborers' official reputed to have close ties to Raymond Patriarca, the former head of the New England mob.When Coia sought to replace his father on the union's board, he was steered by another officer into a meeting at a Chicago airport to receive the blessing of an ranking mafia figure. Coia refused to discuss the incident in an interview last year, but people familiar with his sworn statements say he testified that the meeting surprised him.

Labor officials say Coia, an attorney known for his expensive suits and flashy cars, underwent a transformation after overcoming Hodgkin's disease and signing the deal with the Justice Department.

He forced out ranking union members accused of corruption and cooperated with Luskin's investigation.In recent years, he dedicated substantial resources to organizing new members and seeking better cooperation between labor and employers.

But more recently, Laborers sources say, personal problems and the continuing investigation have left him detached from the day-to-day operations of the union.He skipped the AFL-CIO convention in October to travel in Europe.

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