BUSINESS & LABOR
Union Clears Coia Of Charges
By Sherie Winston
Laborers general president Arthur A. Coia was cleared March 9 by the union's independent hearing officer of several internal disciplinary charges alleging ties to organized crime.
Peter Vaira, the hearing officer, says the evidence submitted during the three-month internal proceeding did not support the charges. As a result, Coia will retain his union post but he was fined $100,000 for violating the union's ethical practices code.
Coia was found guilty of breaking the ethics code for a July 1991 business venture with a union vendor.
At that time, Coia was the union's general secretary.
The venture with Viking Oldsmobile Inc., Middleton, R.I., was a "direct conflict of interest," according to Vaira.
Viking helped Coia obtain a Ferrari that the company financed and kept in its name to postpone payment of luxury taxes.
The car, purchased as an investment for $450,000, was later sold in 1994 for $380,000 because of the slump in the luxury car market.
The car was never titled, which allowed it to be resold as a new car. The ruling said the penalty was in line with the benefits improperly obtained. Vaira noted that no kickbacks were involved nor was any union money involved.
In a statement, Coia says that "without a doubt, this has been a most difficult and trying time for me, for my family, and for my union." But he vows to press forward with the union's internal reforms that began four years ago under an agreement with the Justice Dept. to rid the union of corruption and the influence of organized crime.
The current agreement runs through Jan. 31, 2000. "I remain totally committed to our reform," he says. Officials say the government is conducting its own investigation into similar allegations.
The 16 disciplinary charges were filed against Coia on Nov. 6, 1997, by Robert Luskin, the union's general executive board attorney. The charges alleged that Coia had improperly associated with organized crime figures and received benefits from a union service provider.
Luskin later withdrew one of the charges and the hearing officer said he did not have jurisdiction over allegations made in another charge regarding the car company.
Luskin sidestepped questions seeking a direct response to the ruling, but reiterated that he would not have brought the charges if he did not think they were warranted.
He says he will decide within 10 days whether to appeal.
© 1999 Engineering News-Record