Bureau Of National Affairs
Disciplinary Charges Filed Against Laborers President
By Brian Lockett
Disciplinary charges were filed Nov. 6 against Arthur A. Coia, president of the Laborers' International Union of North America, alleging violations of the union's Ethical Practices Code, according to a union announcement.
The charges were filed by Robert D. Luskin, the attorney and in-house prosecutor for LIUNA's general executive board. The charges were filed with Peter. F. Viara, LIUNA 's independent hearing officer, who will conduct a closed-door hearing on the allegations. Under rules established by Viara, neither the charges nor the hearing will be public. A record of the hearing will be available to union members after the hearings are concluded, the union said.
Viara is a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the former executive director of the President's Commission on Organized Crime.
Responding to press reports last month that disciplinary charges would be filed against him, Coia expressed confidence that he would be “totally, completely, and finally vindicated” (208 DLR A-1, 10/28/97).
While the specific charges were not made public, the union said that the general charge was that Coia, between 1986 and 1993, “knowingly permitted organized crime members to influence the affairs of LIUNA, breached his constitutional and fiduciary duties to the union, and improperly accepted benefits from a LIUNA service provider.”
The union said that because “the most serious allegations concern historical misconduct,” the GEB attorney decided not to suspend Coia. Cited by the union was language under its ethics and disciplinary code that an officer or elected official of the union may be suspended before a hearing only when “an emergency exists in which the welfare or preservation of the union is at stake.”
Coia denied the charges, the union said, and will defend them in hearings before Viara. A hearing date has not been set. Before Viara can hold a hearing on the charges against Coia, he has to conclude hearings regarding the proposed trusteeship of the Laborers District Council in Chicago.
The investigation of Coia and his alleged ties to organized crime is part of an innovative oversight agreement 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 threatened to file an already prepared 212-page draft civil complaint under the federal racketeering statute and take over the union if it decides LIUNA has failed to achieve significant reform. Coia was accused in the draft document of having been “associated with and controlled and influenced by organized crime.”
The oversight agreement is set to expire on Feb. 15, 1998. It remains unclear whether the agreement will be extended or if the Justice Department will decide it is no longer necessary, sources familiar with the negotiations reported.
Federal prosecutors are not precluded under the February 1995 oversight agreement from bringing separate civil or criminal charges against Coia, in addition to charges filed Nov. 6 by the GEB attorney under the union's disciplinary code.
Just before the LIUNA -Justice agreement was announced, the union's general executive board adopted in January 1995 its ethics and disciplinary procedure, which established four independent officers, with powers to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate charges arising under the ethics procedure. Also established was a forum to hear appeals concerning disciplinary violations and trusteeships. Luskin, as the GEB attorney, was authorized to file charges against any member or officer of the union for violations of the LIUNA constitution, ethical practices code, or federal or state law, or for engaging in “barred conduct.” This included knowing association with members of organized crime and knowingly permitting members of organized crime to influence the union.
Since 1995, LIUNA has been engaged in a process of internal reform under Justice Department scrutiny. At any time, the Justice Department has authority to impose a consent decree and appoint officers to take over the day-to-day operation of the union if it feels the union is not making adequate progress toward reform and purging itself of organized crime influence.
Copyright © 1997 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.