Bureau Of National Affairs
By Michelle Amber
Wednesday July 10, 1996
Under attack by Republicans on Capitol Hill, the Laborers' International Union of North America responded July 9, calling separate briefings for the media and congressional staff to describe the union's 1995 oversight agreement with the Justice Department.
The agreement, signed in February 1995, gives the union the opportunity to rid itself of organized crime influence. The union, however, has signed 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).
The individuals responsible for negotiating and implementing the agreement for the union gave a detailed, step-by-step account of how the agreement came into being and what the union has done in the last 18 months to rid itself of organized crime.
Participating in both briefings were Robert Luskin, LIUNA general executive board attorney, who was described as the “architect” of the agreement; W. Douglas Gow, the union's inspector general; Howard Gutman of Williams & Connolly, the firm representing LIUNA General President Arthur Coia in both his individual and official capacities; and Carl Booker, a LIUNA vice president.
The briefings were held in response to charges by the House Republican Conference that Coia “has escaped punishment for serious criminal wrongdoing and ties to organized crime” because of his friendship with President Clinton.
Last month, the conference released a report entitled “Clinton's Friends in the Mob--Arthur Coia and the Clinton White House,” along with a 212-page draft of the Justice Department's 1995 civil complaint detailing its racketeering allegations against the union (112 DLR A-12, 6/11/96). While the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, chaired by Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla), is expected to conduct a hearing on the allegations, no date had been scheduled as of July 9.
The union also has released a 26-page “white paper” entitled “How the Laborers Are Cleaning Their Own House While Those with the Most to Lose from Change Are Trying to Sully It.” The paper has a 111-page appendix that contains the consent decree, the union's ethics procedures, and other documents.
Once Justice told LIUNA that it was considering filing suit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the union, recognizing that there was corruption within its ranks, decided to cooperate with the government rather than fight it, said Luskin, a former special counsel for the Justice Department's Organized Crime and Racketeering Section.
One reason for the union's cooperation, he said at the press briefing, is the experience of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters when the government filed a RICO suit against that union. The Teamsters, which fought the RICO suit for three years before agreeing to a consent decree, spent $35 million to $40 million in legal fees, and almost ended up bankrupt by fighting the government rather than cooperating with it, he said.
LIUNA, which wanted to settle the case without a complete government takeover, proposed that it reform itself, Luskin said. During negotiations with the Justice Department, the union's general executive board adopted an ethical practices code and disciplinary procedure as well as setting up the inspector general's office.
The DOJ officials expressed reservations about any proposal that did not involve direct supervision. They said they were concerned that if the union failed in its efforts, DOJ would have to start from scratch in prosecuting the case. LIUNA then agreed, Luskin said, to sign a consent decree with the understanding that the government would give the union at least 90 days to try to clean its own house.
He emphasized that the agreement allows the government to file the consent decree and take over the union anytime it believes that the union is not making progress on its own.
Gutman, a former special assistant to the director of the FBI, refuted some of the allegations made by the GOP about the agreement.
He contended that the agreement with Justice was not a “sweetheart deal” as many contend.
“The government walked away with everything they got in the Teamsters consent decree without the headaches,” he contended. He explained that the government got the signed consent decree without the time and expense of litigation. In addition, he said, that when the agreement was challenged by two former LIUNA officers, it was the union that had to go to court and defend it, not the government (21 DLR AA-1, 2/1/96).
Regarding the allegations that Coia was not removed from office because of his friendship with the president, Gutman said that Coia has been investigated extensively by internal union procedures under the watchful eye of the government.
The union has spent more time and money investigating Coia than any other individual, he said, adding that the LIUNA president has been deposed two times before Luskin in the presence of members of the U.S. Attorney's office and interviewed at least 12 times by the inspector general and his staff, which consists of 45 former FBI agents. Gutman added that the government can file criminal or civil charges against Coia at anytime if it feels it is warranted.
According to the LIUNA representatives, the union has made much progress in the last 18 months of ridding itself of organized crime.
Inspector General Gow, a former associate deputy director of investigations with the FBI, said his office has to date opened some 350 investigations of alleged wrongdoing and improper action, imposed six trusteeships on locals and district councils that had repeated problems with corruption, overturned elections in four locals due to irregularities, and has charged more than 70 individuals with violations. Also, more than 25 officers and employees of the union have been terminated for barred conduct under the ethics and disciplinary code, with another 20 charged with association with organized crime.
In addition, his office has established a toll-free anti-corruption hotline and post office box, enabling members to confidentially raise allegations of improprieties.
Asked about the possible McCollum hearings, Gutman said that because of certain magazine and newspaper articles he can understand that the subcommittee would be thinking that there “must be something here.” But, he added, the White House and the Justice Department have just released to the subcommittee their documents regarding the agreement and the “documents show rather significantly that rather than assisting the Laborers in any way, the only White House involvement at all was at one point to complain about the deal.” He added that he thinks the Republicans “now have realized they don't have an election year issue because the documents show there was no White House deal.”
Following the press briefing, however, the House Republican Conference issued a statement suggesting that there is the existence “of an appearance of impropriety, or at worst an abdication of responsibility by senior federal law enforcement and White House officials” due to the relationship between Coia and President Clinton.
“The point of the upcoming congressional inquiry is not to rehash the charges against Coia, but simply to ensure that the integrity of our nation's criminal justice system remains intact,” the release said.
(c) 2002 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. Washington, D.C. 20037