The Buffalo News



March 13, 1999

Arthur A. Coia, a national labor leader and fund-raiser for President Clinton, has been cleared of organized crime allegations made by former Laborers Local 210 business manager Ronald M. Fino.

Officials of the Laborers International Union of North America announced in Washington Tuesday that Coia will be allowed to continue as president of the 750,000-member union.

Tuesday's decision by a hearing officer hired by the laborers international followed a lengthy in-house investigation into claims -- made by Fino and others -- that Coia was controlled by the mob.

The organized crime charges were not sustained, said Hearing Officer Peter Vaira, but he did fine Coia $ 100,000 for some questionable dealings involving a $ 450,000 Ferrari sports car.

"The investigation was thorough, and the prosecution was able and aggressive," said Robert Luskin, an attorney who presented the mob charges before the hearing officer. "We left no stone unturned."

Fino, who abruptly left his Local 210 job 10 years ago and disappeared from Buffalo to become a paid FBI witness, was a key figure in the case against Coia.

Wearing a black hood over his face during a 1996 appearance at a congressional hearing, Fino publicly accused Coia of being controlled by mobsters. Fino claimed that Coia once told him he needed to get permission from Buffalo Mafia leaders before Fino could run for vice president of the international.

Testimony from Fino and others who claimed Coia was tied to the mob was rejected by Vaira.

Luskin said he continues to believe Fino testified truthfully before Vaira.

"I wouldn't have presented a witness if I felt he was being untruthful," Luskin said.

Fino could not be reached to comment late Tuesday.

Luskin said it is his understanding that the U.S. Justice Department is continuing its own investigation into the allegations about Coia.

"We shared the information. The information is on their desk, for them to do with as they please," Luskin said.

U.S. Attorney Denise E. O'Donnell said the federal government "continues to closely monitor all developments involving Local 210 and the laborers international." She declined to comment further.

Vaira's decision to clear Coia of mob allegations was the latest step in a controversial organized crime cleanup that has been under way for four years. The U.S. Justice Department is working closely with lawyers for the international to keep mob influences out of the international and its locals.

The international, which claims Local 210 had some of the worst organized crime problems of any local in the nation, has been supervising the Buffalo local since 1996.

More than 200 union leaders, including about 30 from Local 210, have been forced out of their jobs because they were accused of having organized crime connections.

Fino and other critics testified about Coia in July 1996, before the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime.

Tuesday's action was greeted with skepticism by Robert H. Perk, a Buffalo attorney who has represented Local 210 members who are unhappy with the mob cleanup.


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