August 10, 1999
In an opinion released Aug. 9, Arthur A.
Coia, president of the Laborers' International Union of North
America, was cleared of internal disciplinary charges that he
permitted organized crime to influence the union.
Appellate Officer W. Neil Eggleston affirmed
all portions of the independent hearing officer's decision that
were appealed by Robert D. Luskin, the union's general executive
board attorney and in-house prosecutor.
Eggleston, who has served as the union's
appellate officer since March 1995, is a former assistant U. S.
Attorney and chief of the appellate section for the Southern District
of New York. He is a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm
of Howrey & Simon.
The charges against Coia were the result
of 22 days of hearings over three months last spring that produced
5,500 pages of testimony from 19 witnesses and more than 500 exhibits.
The charges were referred to Peter Vaira, LIUNA's independent
hearing officer, for an opinion.
The Coia investigation was undertaken as
part of an unusual consent decree negotiated in 1995 by LIUNA
and the Justice Department that allows the union to root out corrupt
practices through internal reforms. The Justice Department has
threatened to file an already prepared 212-page civil complaint
under the federal racketeering statute and take over the union
if the union fails to achieve significant reform on its own.
Vaira cleared Coia March 8 of multiple charges
of association with organized crime figures filed against him
under the union's ethical practices code, but upheld a conflict
of interest charge resulting from the purchase of an expensive
sports car from an auto dealer in Providence, R.I., which also
was a union vendor. Coia was fined $100,000, payable over two
years, for "direct conflict of interest."
Vaira dismissed a charge involving tax issues,
saying he lacked expertise in that area, and said the remaining
charges alleging improper association with organized crime figures
were not proved by a preponderance of evidence.
Luskin appealed, focusing on disciplinary
charges associated with former union officials John Serpico and
Ron Fino. Serpico, once a LIUNA vice president, was removed from
the union in January 1995 when he refused to endorse the union's
new ethical practices code. Fino was a former official with Laborers
Local 210 in Buffalo, N.Y. (57 DLR A-2, 3/25/99).
Vaira found that Coia had not breached his
fiduciary duties by appointing Serpico as chairman of LIUNA's
hearings panel or by investigating Fino's allegations of La Cosa
Nostra influence within LIUNA (46 DLR AA-1, E-1, 3/10/99).
Vaira found that Coia acted reasonably to
diminish Serpico's influence in the union. The GEB attorney argued
on appeal that Coia had the alternative under the union's constitution
of prosecuting Serpico more vigorously.
Eggleston said the question was not whether
the GEB attorney's interpretation was correct but whether Coia's
failure to adopt that interpretation was "so egregious a
violation as not only to support, but to require, the imposition
of discipline." According to Eggleston, while this alternative
may have been open to Coia, "his failure to perceive it and
to blaze a new trail cannot plausibly be said to have represented
such an egregious departure from the applicable standards of conduct
as to require the imposition of discipline."
Eggleston added that he did not believe the
course of action advocated by the GEB attorney "was so clearly
superior to the path Mr. Coia took as to be constitutionally required."
Coia's actions "were intended to, and did, have the effect
of curtailing Mr. Serpico's influence within the union,"
Eggleston said, affirming the IHO's decision that they provided
no basis for discipline.
With regard to claims on appeal that Coia
did not play an active enough role in the internal investigation
of Fino, Eggleston found that it was a "permissible course
of action" under the circumstances for Coia "to allow
impartial investigators to do the job for which they had been
According to Eggleston: "To the extent
that an investigator needs information from an officer, that information
must, of course, be forthcoming. But this is a far different principle
than the one for which the GEB attorney here contends: that Mr.
Coia's failure to direct [the investigating attorney's] investigation
was so wrongful as not only to support, but to compel, the imposition
Coia said Aug. 9, "Having spent years
fighting false allegations of mob ties, I look forward to continuing
the work of our great union and to continuing the partnership
we have worked hard to forge with the government over the past
four and a half years. I hope that the time for peace for me,
my family, and my union has finally come."
Asked about his reaction to the appellate
officer's ruling, Luskin said Aug. 9, "I think we were afforded
a full opportunity to present evidence relevant to the charges
and a fair opportunity to be heard."
Copyright © 1999 by The Bureau
of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.
Provided as a public service to LIUNA members
by Laborers for JUSTICE