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LIUNA President Coia Denies Allegations That Union Has Ties To Organized Crime

 

By Michelle Amber

Monday August 12, 1996

 

Laborers' International Union of North America General President Arthur A. Coia denied allegations that his union is controlled by organized crime, during an interview with BNA Aug. 7.

 

At the AFL-CIO Executive Council summer meeting in Chicago, Coia said the union had “pockets of corruption across the country,” but through its internal reform procedures, as supervised by the federal government, those “pockets” are almost gone.

 

The union now is “the cleanest union in the United States,” he said.

 

“We have 700 local unions and 50 district councils and somewhere along the line there was some corruption that existed in that network,” he said. “It's no different than any other large institution, no different from any political entity, no different from any large banking institution. That's not an excuse but we're dealing with human nature.”

 

The LIUNA president also acknowledged that there is an ongoing investigation by the union's inspector general, under the supervision of the federal government, of allegations of his own personal involvement with La Cosa Nostra.

 

“I expect [the investigation] to turn out favorably. If I didn't I would have gone 18 months ago [when the government notified LIUNA of its intent to file a civil lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Act]. You know why? I have another life somewhere.”

 

Coia said he is comfortable with the investigation of himself, noting that it has to be done because of accusations contained in a 212-page draft Justice Department complaint. Once the investigation is concluded the inspector general will give his findings to the general executive board's attorney--the prosecutorial arm of the reform process--who will determine whether charges should be filed. Coia said he is confident that he will get a “clean bill of health.”

 

Union Operating Under Oversight Agreement

 

 

The 750,000-member union has been operating under an oversight agreement with the federal government since February 1995. The union was given the opportunity to rid itself of organized crime influence through internal reforms.

 

The union revised its ethics code and disciplinary procedures, appointed an inspector general, a general executive board attorney, and an independent hearing officer to investigate and prosecute wrongdoings. These reforms are permanent, Coia said, and will remain in place when the agreement with the government expires in February 1998.

 

The union has a consent decree with the government that allows the Justice Department to seize control of the union if it fails to remove corrupt officers or establish democratic internal reforms (32 DLR A-14, 2/16/95).

 

According to Robert Luskin, the GEB's attorney, in the 18 months of the agreement the union has imposed seven trusteeships on locals and district councils for ties to organized crime, financial corruption, or mismanagement; charged, disciplined, terminated, or caused the resignation of more than 46 individuals who had ties to organized crime; and caused the resignation of eight local union officers for financial malfeasance and three for election fraud or obstructing the inspector general. More than 300 cases have been opened, he said.

 

Coia said he agreed to the arrangement because that was the only way to convince the public, government, and media that it was not controlled by the mob.

 

“We had been accused for many years of being controlled by the mob. I could stand on a soapbox from now until the cows come home and say, `no, no, not so.' “ But the only way to prove it, he said, is to say to the government, “we are not controlled by the mob and we will show it. And if there are places where there is mob influence we will get rid of it. You show us where, we will get rid of it.”

 

The union has gotten rid of mob influence, he said, in New York City, Buffalo, St. Louis, and Cleveland.

 

House Republicans Hold Hearings

 

 

The union and its agreement with the government have come under recent attack by House Republicans. The House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime conducted hearings July 24-25 on the union's oversight agreement and on whether Coia may have escaped prosecution for labor racketeering because of his friendship with President Clinton and Hillary Clinton.

 

Present and former high-level Justice Department and FBI officials defended the agreement and denied the suggestion that the White House attempted to influence their decision to allow the union to reform itself internally instead of being taken over by the government (143 DLR AA-1, 7/25/96; 144 DLR A-11, 7/26/96).

 

The hearings were “politically motivated,” Coia charged, contending that the Republicans have launched a “witch hunt” like that last seen in the days of Senator Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

 

One positive thing that came out of the hearings, Coia said, is that the witnesses from the Justice Department said “loud and clear” that the reform process is working. “When you get positive affirmation from the same individual that was threatening to bring suit I think that shows it is going well,” he said.

 

Coia was referring to testimony from Jim E. Moody, the former head of the FBI's organized crime program. Moody testified that he was against the agreement when it was first proposed, but “since it has been initiated, I would say that it's been much more successful than I had anticipated.”

 

In a written report to the AFL-CIO Executive Council, Coia said the report from Minority Counsel John Flannery of the House subcommittee on crime concludes that “there is good cause to commend this agreement with the Laborers to the Department [of Justice] as a working model to reform other unions corrupted by mob influence.”

 

Coia told BNA that he was disappointed that he was not asked to testify. “They focused in on me for six weeks and all of a sudden they don't want me to testify!” He added, “And then I have to listen to character assassination,” without being able to respond.

 

The LIUNA president said he believes he was not asked to testify because “they were afraid to hear the truth, and I would have said it exactly like it was and they did not want to hear it.”

 

As for the allegations about his friendship with the Clintons, Coia said, “With all this so-called mob influence I keep walking in and out of the White House. Evidentially, whatever report they had isn't too damaging, or if it was I don't think I'd be going there.”

 

Coia Faces Challenge

 

 

For the first time in its history, the union will hold secret ballot membership elections for the two top officers of the union under an agreement reached with the government earlier this year (22 DLR AA-1, 2/22/96). An independent election officer--Stephen Goldberg--has been selected to oversee the union's convention and the election of officers to the union's general executive board.

 

The secret ballot election of the two top officers will be conducted 60 to 80 days after the union's convention, scheduled for Sept. 23-27 in Las Vegas, Nev.

 

Coia will face a challenger for the presidency of the union. Bruno Caruso, president of Local 1001 in Chicago, has declared his intention to run against Coia.

 

When asked about his chances for re-election in light of the Republican attacks, Coia would only reply, “I hope to be re-elected.”

 

He noted that the union's election procedures would be different under the election agreement but he predicted the “results will be the same.”

 

(c) 1996 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. Washington, D.C. 20037


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