July 25, 1996
A hooded Ronald Fino told a congressional
panel on Wednesday that Arthur Coia, the general president of
the Laborers International Union of North America, is beholden
to the Mafia.
The Republicans on the House Judiciary Subcommittee
on Crime, in turn, tried to tie Coia to President Clinton.
They offered summaries and charts attempting
to link the union's $ 200,000 contribution to the Democratic National
Committee and Coia's gifts to the president and his wife with
a Justice Department decision last year to allow Coia to continue
as head of the union while it is under federal orders to rid itself
of mob ties.
Fino, the former Buffalo laborers union leader
turned FBI informant, wore a heavy black hood over his head to
protect his identity as he testified behind a three-sided screen.
He told the panel that Coia has consistently
surrounded himself with figures from organized crime, including
bosses from New Jersey's notorious Genovese family.
"Coia was absolutely controlled by the
family," Fino said.
He testified that Coia told him he needed
the permission of La Cosa Nostra in Buffalo before Fino could
run for international vice president.
"That decision would have to be made
elsewhere," Fino quoted Coia as saying at a meeting arranged
at a wake for a New Jersey mobster in the mid-1980s.
Fino also revealed that the international
union, working through the Mafia, kept national construction companies
out of Buffalo and Northeast, directing work to regional contractors
favored by local gangsters.
"With the laborers international (union),
we would not allow national contractors into New England, New
York and New Jersey, because of the families," Fino said.
"We would not allow anyone from Chicago
into those areas," he said. "With the national agreements
you could pretty much manipulate who you could get a contract
for. There are so many different ways that we could make a contractor
Coia in a press release called Fino "the
Joe Klein of mob informants," referring to the Newsweek columnist
who admitted he lied when he concealed his authorship of the political
novel "Primary Colors."
Coia's union, of which Laborers Local 210
of Buffalo is a member, is under Justice Department orders to
rid itself of all its connections with La Cosa Nostra, which go
back at least 25 years.
The government's probe of the union started
under Republican President George Bush and continued under the
Democratic Clinton administration.
However, Clinton's Justice Department in
a February 1995 settlement of its probe of the union rejected
pleas from the FBI that Coia be ousted from the union presidency.
James Moody, a former FBI agent familiar
with the probe of the national union, testified that he had misgivings
initially about the government's decision to try and reform the
union with Coia at the helm.
But lately, Moody said, there are signs that
reforms enforced on the international union through a government-imposed
internal inspector general, W. Douglas Gow, may be working.
Moody and another former FBI investigator,
Clark Hall, said they are concerned about what will happen when
the government's enforcement powers over the union expire in two
In trying to link Coia to Clinton, Rep. Bob
Barr, R-Ga., a member of the subcommittee, brandished a $ 500
custom-made, engraved golf club of the type Coia gave Clinton
two years ago while he and his union were under Justice Department
In an attempt to implicate Clinton in the
Justice Department's decision to let Coia remain in office, Barr
handed out copies of a handwritten 1994 note on White House stationery
from Clinton to Coia:
Clinton also gave Coia a golf club, according to committee records given to reporters.
Thanks for the gorgeous driver -- it's a work of art (underlined).
Coia also gave Clinton a basketball autographed
by Larry Bird, golf balls, a union tie and a handmade golf shirt.
He gave Mrs. Clinton a book of Psalms.
Coia's union donated $200,000 to the Democratic
National Committee and $80,000 to the president's campaign fund,
while Coia himself donated $1,000 to the president's legal defense
After testifying, Fino told The Buffalo News
that while his picture has been published in Buffalo, he wants
no new photos printed in order to conceal his identify in his
Fino, who was dropped from the FBI's payroll
two years ago, has been on a personal services contract for two
years with Gow, the union's inspector general.
Earlier he testified that after 15 years
as an undercover FBI informant and nearly eight years in hiding
because of death threats, often living on military bases, he was
having second thoughts about his decision. "If I had to do
it over again, I don't know that I would do it today," he
He is not in the government's witness protection
program but makes his living as a lecturer at law enforcement
schools and as a consultant to Gow.
Rep. Charles Schumer, D-Brooklyn, and other
subcommittee Democrats ridiculed the Republicans for their "theatrics"
in taking testimony from a hooded witness behind a screen.
Under Schumer's questioning, Fino and the
two former FBI agents acknowledged that they did not believe that
Justice Department officials or Gow could be influenced in their
decisions on how to reform the international union.
The hearings brought strong protests from
AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney and Secretary-Treasurer Richard
Sweeney said the hearings are "a naked
political payback to try to punish all of America's unions for
telling it like it is on Medicare, tax cuts for the rich and the
Trumka, at an impromptu press conference
in the hallway outside the hearing room, denounced the Republicans
for conducting "a political side-show."