Bureau of National Affairs

LIUNA's President Arthur Coia Poised to Resign Under Plea Agreement

By Michael Bologna and Brian Lockett

Sept. 30, 1999

CHICAGO--Arthur A. Coia, president of the Laborers' International Union of North America, will likely resign next month from his position as leader of the 500,000-member international union under the terms of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, sources told BNA.

A government source familiar with the agreement told BNA Sept. 29 Coia is expected to announce his resignation from LIUNA by Oct. 15. Coia's resignation would be followed a few weeks later by a guilty plea on a single felony count pertaining to his purchase of an expensive sports car from a dealer who was also a vendor to Coia's union, the source said. The plea agreement was negotiated by Department of Justice prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Rhode Island.

Under the plea deal, Coia would likely avoid a prison sentence, the source said. He would, however, be barred from any future interaction with the union he and his father, Arthur E. Coia, served for so many years.

Other sources in Washington, D.C., confirmed the basic outlines of the plea agreement, but declined to comment further.

A LIUNA official had no comment on the report, other than to say, "From time to time these rumors come up. There is no change in President Coia's status or plans."

A spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., had no comment on the matter.

The agreement would in many respects allow the government to achieve objectives that eluded LIUNA's own internal disciplinary process earlier this year. In a decision dated March 8, LIUNA's independent hearing officer Peter F. Vaira cleared Coia of nearly all charges involving violations of the union's ethical practices code (46 DLR AA-1, E-1, 3/10/99. Many of the charges involved allegations that Coia closely associated with organized crime figures and reflected the Department of Justice's long-held contention that LIUNA has been a mob-controlled union.

Consent Decree Gives DOJ Authority

The internal investigation and prosecution of Coia completed earlier this year was conducted as part of a unique consent decree negotiated in 1995 between LIUNA and the Justice Department that allowed the international union to root out corrupt practices and organized crime affiliations through a range of internal reforms. The Justice Department has always reserved the right to file an already prepared 212-page civil complaint under the federal racketeering statute and take over the union at any time if the union fails to achieve significant reforms.

In the Coia disciplinary case, Vaira ruled that the Office of the General Executive Board Attorney, LIUNA's internal prosecutor, failed to demonstrate mob associations by a preponderance of the evidence. Vaira's decision was recently sustained on appeal to LIUNA's appellate hearing officer Neil Eggleston (153 DLR A-11, 8/10/99).

The sole charge of which Coia was found guilty in the decision issued by Vaira involved his purchase of a Ferrari F 40 automobile from Viking Oldsmobile in Providence, R.I., in 1991. Robert Luskin, LIUNA's in-house prosecutor and GEB attorney, maintained that the transaction should be regarded as a direct conflict of interest because Coia personally received something of value from a union vendor. Coia was fined $100,000 for the violation, payable over two years.

Coia, who also could have appealed the portion of the decision levying a fine against him for a conflict-of-interest violation, decided earlier this year not to appeal. The government source said that under the plea agreement the single felony count to which Coia will plead guilty relates to the conflict of interest charge involving Viking Oldsmobile.

DOJ Disappointed with Earlier Decision

The Justice Department expressed disappointment with Vaira's decision when it was issued six months ago. James K. Robinson, assistant attorney general for the department's criminal division, and Scott Lassar, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, released a joint statement at the time asserting Vaira's decision was filled with "serious factual and legal errors."

A Justice Department official said Vaira, in several instances, failed to apply legal precedents established by Eggleston in previous appellate decisions. He said the department also questioned several of Vaira's factual findings. Several of those findings pertained to the credibility of witnesses (57 DLR A-2, 3/25/99).

Copyright © 1999 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C

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