The Boston Globe


By Diane E. Lewis, Globe Staff
January 27, 2000

Arthur A. Coia, former president of one of the nation's biggest construction unions, yesterday agreed in a Boston federal court to plead guilty next week to mail fraud in connection with a scheme to avoid payment of $100,000 in taxes.

Coia, a Providence-born attorney and former president of the Laborers International Union of North America, had served as an adviser to President Clinton, chosen for his fund-raising ability and strong labor ties. Coia, of Barrington, R.I., is scheduled to appear Monday before US District Judge George A. O'Toole for sentencing. The court will determine at that time whether to approve the plea bargain.

Under the arrangement announced yesterday, Coia will be required to pay a $10,000 fine and $100,000 in restitution for evading taxes in Rhode Island. The US attorney's office is expected to recommend Coia serve two years probation.

The plea bargain also bars Coia from being a member, employee, or leader of the laborers union or any of its satellites. It further bars him from being an employee of any other union for five years.

Some union members and observers were disappointed that Coia, 56, was not stripped of the title of general president emeritus, which guarantees a $250,000 annual salary and pension. In January, Coia resigned as president of the 500,000-member union. "Although it is legal for him to be general president emeritus, it is not ethical," said Jim McGough, a member of Local 5 of the laborers union in Chicago. "Why? Because he will be paid for doing nothing."

A one-count information filed in federal court by US Attorney Donald K. Stern alleges that over six years, Coia bought several luxury Ferraris valued at $215,000 to $1 million from Viking Inc., a major union car dealership.

The government alleges that, from 1991 to 1997, Coia illegally registered the vehicles to the firm's address in Middletown to avoid paying taxes. Rhode Island imposes a 7 percent tax on the purchase of all automobiles.

"While holding important leadership positions at LIUNA, including the office of general president, Mr. Coia engaged in an extensive scheme to cheat Rhode Island and the town of Barrington of approximately $100,000 in taxes," Stern said in a statement. "He spent well over a million dollars on Ferrari automobiles, but repeatedly found ways to shirk his duty to pay his taxes."

The government alleges Coia used a fraudulent invoice from Viking that falsely stated he had purchased a $215,000 GTB4 for $2,160. The invoice was then presented in Rhode Island, where Coia allegedly paid $151 in taxes rather than the $15,000 he actually owed.

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