The Buffalo News



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 get jobs."

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 years.

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 investigation.

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:

"Dear Arthur,

Thanks for the gorgeous driver -- it's a work of art (underlined).



Clinton also gave Coia a golf club, according to committee records given to reporters.

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 fund.

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 "new environment."

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 said.

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 L. Trumka.

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 minimum wage."

Trumka, at an impromptu press conference in the hallway outside the hearing room, denounced the Republicans for conducting "a political side-show."


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