Daily Labor Report -
October 28, 1997
Union President Coia Says He Expects Disciplinary Charges to be Filed Against Him
Arthur A. Coia, president of the Laborers' International Union of North America, said Oct. 27 in a letter to union officials that charges will be filed against him by the attorney for the union's general executive board under the union's Ethics and Disciplinary Code.
Coia made no mention of resigning and, according to a union source, will ''go through the process'' of a trial before an union hearing officer.
In the letter to GEB members and LIUNA regional managers, Coia asserted his innocence and said there was ''no truth'' to allegations of his wrongdoing. When the union undertook internal reform in February 1995, in the face of a federal government takeover, Coia said, ''I never asked for, I never expected, I never wanted special treatment or consideration. And Lord knows, as you know, I never got it.''
Coia said ''there was always a chance that one day I might be charged.'' He expressed confidence that ''when all the evidence is presented, when the truth is brought forward, I will be totally, completely, and finally vindicated.''
Coia issued the letter following a GEB meeting earlier in the day.
Prosecutors Preparing Charges
Last week, sources close to the ongoing LIUNA investigation said federal prosecutors were preparing charges linking Coia to organized crime and will seek his ouster as president of the 500,000-member union.
Robert D. Luskin, attorney for the union's general executive board and in-house prosecutor, said that he ''absolutely will not comment on the status of pending investigations.'' Luskin said Coia ''has not been charged, and I won't comment on whether he will be'' (206 DLR A-1, 10/24/97).
Luskin on Oct. 27 had no further comment on the matter.
Howard Gutman, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing Coia, could not be reached for comment.
Sources familiar with the LIUNA situation said federal prosecutors are not precluded under the February 1995 consent decree negotiated by LIUNA and the Justice Department from bringing criminal or civil charges against Coia, in addition to charges filed under the union disciplinary code. Whether federal prosecutors will file charges, one source said, ''is for them to say.''
The investigation of Coia and his alleged ties to organized crime is part of an innovative consent decree negotiated in 1995 by LIUNA and the Justice Department that allows the union to root out corrupt practices through a range of internal reforms.
The Justice Department has the option of filing an already prepared 212-page civil complaint under the federal racketeering statute and taking over the union if it decides LIUNA has failed to achieve significant reform
Copyright © 1997 by The Bureau of
National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.
Bureau of National Affairs
Daily Labor Report - October 28, 1997
Sources Say Prosecutors Plan to Oust Laborers Sources Say Prosecutors Plan to Oust Coia as President of Laborers Union
Sources close to the investigation of the Laborers' International Union of North America confirmed Oct. 23 that federal prosecutors are preparing charges linking Arthur A. Coia to organized crime and will seek his ouster as president of the 500,000-member union.
Charges against Coia could be filed by the end of October, according to these sources, and would be referred to a union hearing officer for trial.
The investigation of Coia's alleged ties to organized crime is part of an innovative consent decree negotiated in 1995 by LIUNA and the Justice Department, which allows the union to root out corrupt practices through a range of internal reforms. The Justice Department has threatened to file an already prepared 212-page civil complaint under the federal racketeering statutes if LIUNA fails to achieve real reform.
The consent decree is set to expire Feb. 15, 1998. It remains unclear whether the decree will be extended or if the Justice Department will decide it is no longer necessary, sources familiar with the negotiations said.
John Russell, spokesman for Attorney General Janet Reno, Oct. 23 refused to comment on the case, saying only, ''We believe the consent decree is doing its job and we are satisfied with the way it is going.''
Robert D. Luskin, attorney for the union's general executive board and in-house prosecutor, said Oct. 23 that he ''absolutely will not comment on the status of pending investigations.'' Luskin said Coia ''has not been charged, and I won't comment on whether he will be.''
''We have stated publicly that a thorough and aggressive investigation of all credible allegations against Coia is an essential component in the reform process and we are working hard to do that,'' Luskin said.
In a statement Oct. 23, LIUNA said ''at this time,'' no charges have been filed against Coia by the union's general executive board attorney. ''Should any charges be filed, then LIUNA's Ethics & Disciplinary Code will provide for a full and fair hearing before experienced independent officers.''
The union stated that ''as a general matter it is and has been LIUNA's policy not to comment on the merits of specific charges filed against any member or officer. Leaks of this kind are regrettable, however, as they are contrary to the spirit of good faith that has marked the union's internal reform efforts implemented during the past two and a half years in cooperation with the Department of Justice.
''LIUNA's internal reform programs and Code of Ethics have worked well in building a better and stronger union for our members. LIUNA remains fully committed to these programs and has full confidence in their integrity.''
Coia in December 1996 was re-elected to a second term in the first direct election of union officers in LIUNA's 93-year history (245 DLR A-9, 12/20/96).
Heat from Republicans
The consent decree has come under criticism from Republicans in Congress who claim it was only Coia's close ties to President Bill Clinton that averted a full government takeover of the union. During Clinton's first term, there reportedly was frequent personal contact between Coia and the president. Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted a 1995 invitation to address a Florida meeting of the union's Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust.
GOP leaders also claim Coia received less harsh treatment from the Clinton administration because of LIUNA's large campaign contributions to Democrats. LIUNA headed the list of union soft-money donors to the Democratic Party, according to data compiled by Common Cause (183 DLR A-8, 9/20/96).
Among a number of wide-ranging internal reform measures, LIUNA has proposed trusteeship for the Chicago District Council of Laborers. In a June 16 complaint, Luskin sought to rid the district council of organized crime influence, correct past financial malpractice, and restore democratic principles. He asserted that criminal elements affected council operations for at least the past 25 years (112 DLR A-12, 6/11/96). Closed-door hearings on the trusteeship proposal began in July.
Similar action was taken by LIUNA against its district council in New York City.
Chicago Group Supports Ouster
Laborers for Justice and Democracy, a small Chicago-based group of union members seeking reform, responded enthusiastically to the possibility that charges might be brought against Coia. The group previously has alleged that Coia has close ties to organized crime and has called for his ouster.
''Arthur Coia should resign to prevent any further harm to the reputation of the Laborers' International Union of North America,'' said Jim McGough, a spokesman for the reform group. ''We will not tolerate corruption in this union any longer. We are adamant that corruption be eliminated and that new elections be held.''
While McGough expressed optimism that Coia's days with the international union might be numbered, he was suspicious of the timing of the charges and the hearing process that might be used.
McGough noted that a hearing could not be completed by the time the LIUNA-Justice Department consent decree expired next year. McGough pointed to the fact that charges against the Chicago District Council of LIUNA were announced in mid-June and the hearings associated with a possible trusteeship over the body are still going on. LIUNA's independent hearing officer, Peter Vaira, is not expected to issue his decision until December. With the Chicago hearings consuming so much of Vaira's time and energy, McGough said there is no way he could conduct an equally complex series of hearings against Coia and issue a ruling before the middle of 1998, much less February.
McGough said his organization will begin writing to the Justice Department and officers within LIUNA demanding an extension of the internal reform agreement. If charges are filed against Coia, McGough said the group will also petition for new elections, so LIUNA's membership can choose a leadership slate untainted by organized crime.
By Brian Lockett and Michael J. Bologna
Copyright © 1997 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.